What did you dream of becoming when you were a kid? A doctor? A teacher? A pilot or an astronaut? A recent survey of 2000 parents of 11- to 16-year-olds shows that doctors (18%) are still number one on the dream job list. However, they are closely followed by social media influencers (17%) and more specifically, YouTubers (14%).
Being a social media star might look very attractive. Influencers are famous, travel to exotic countries, companies give them a lot of nice new things and best of all, these new jobs can offer a substantial paycheck.
What children – and possibly their parents – often don’t see is the negative side of the equation. If your child is hoping to become a well-paid star on Instagram or YouTube, they should be prepared to be confronted with many challenges.
Creating new content is hard work
Keeping huge crowds of followers entertained takes constant effort. Creating new and interesting posts every day can be time-consuming and exhausting.
It can be emotionally demanding to invest a lot of time and energy in a post, just to see followers ignore or make fun of the result. Many young influencers who base their self-worth on the likes and shares they receive, struggle if the interest of the online crowd fades. This can lead to rising feelings of anxiety.
This has been confirmed by the stories of current influencers, who suffered from depression and burnout in their late teens. Imagine how difficult it would be for a young child to handle such issues.
Basing self-esteem on public acknowledgement at an early age is risky. An individual’s identity is still being formed during late adolescence. The urge to be seen as successful by online followers might make this process much more complicated. Rather than naturally discovering their own strengths, talents and sense of self, a teenager can become fixated on social expectations.
Followers are not real friends
Young children also tend to overlook the simple fact that followers are not real friends. Anonymous online crowds will not be there when they need a break from the latest social media craze or be their confidant in difficult times. Real friends and family cannot be replaced and should not be neglected in favour of a digital life.
Online hate is inevitable
Any person in the social media limelight will inevitably have to face online hate. Comment sections flooded with hateful messages are an emotional drag while actual threats are frightening for anyone, no matter their age.
Parents can help their children by moderating comments and reporting inappropriate behaviour to administrators, but this is not feasible when large numbers of people are involved.
Hate can also spill over into other areas of a child’s life. Bullies in their school or sports team just need to repeat malicious comments from the digital world to make the life of young influencers particularly difficult. A child who is becoming famous is in a risky situation because teenagers struggle to succeed and be popular. Therefore, many peers may be jealous or mean and some friendships may become superficial (fake). At such an age these experiences may be extra painful.
Oversharing and other bad habits
Kim Kardashian is one of the most influential figures on social media, who likes to post and share everything from her private life. During one of her visits to Paris, this backfired in the worst possible way, as she was robbed at gun point, with criminals stealing jewellery worth eight million dollars. It later came to light that the heist was organized based on Kim’s social media posts.
This example of oversharing should be a warning to anyone, especially to young influencers, who will do almost anything to please their followers. Parental guidance at the start a child’s digital life is essential. It helps set healthy boundaries between public and private life on social media. Remember - any-thing posted online will stay there forever.
We also need to stress that social media stars can inspire children to act in ways that are not necessarily good for them. Following bad advice or the latest social media craze can lead to dangers many adults don’t even imagine, as illustrated by the Tide Pod challenge.
Pretty profiles don’t show the whole picture
Children need to understand that what they see on social media is not real life. Most posts by influencers are staged and heavily edited. This can make followers feel inadequate. To address that, some social media stars have even started describing the preparations required to make the video or photo. By adding those details, they are trying to show that their online life is a small part of the big picture, which often includes embarrassing or unpleasant moments and isn’t always upbeat and glamorous.
YouTube as psychology service?
Many YouTubers post videos about their psychological ups and downs, break-ups, anxieties and fears. This can be useful as it shows that it’s normal to sometimes feel down and there are ways to get through it. However, what works for one person might not necessarily be right for others.
“Pop” advice is not the best way to address serious psychological issues. A YouTube channel is no substitute for real dialogue about sensitive issues with trusted parties such as friends and family or a psychologist.
What can a parent do to keep their children safe?
Talk to your children and guide them through their experience online from a young age. If they pick up good habits when they’re young, there is a good chance they’ll adhere to them as teenagers. Keep the dialogue as open as possible. Make sure your child sees you as a trusted advisor in case anything in their online life goes wrong.
If your young child follows an influencer, consider following him/her too and keep an eye on what they share or post. Be there to discuss with your child any inappropriate content that ap-pears.
Build bridges across the generation gap. When having a conversation with your child, listening can be more valuable than talking. Let your child know you’re interested in that they’re saying and lead by example - practice what you preach.
Accept your child’s ambition to be an acknowledged content creator as an opportunity to be close to them and teach them more than just how to prepare their online stream. Keep your-self up to date with the latest trends amongst teens. You have responsibilities, but try not to act like an authoritarian figure. Make it clear that both of you are learning. That way you can enjoy a dialogue with your teenager at an age where communication can be particularly difficult.
Use parental control tools that can help you to keep an eye on what your child is doing online and identify situations where they might need advice. With your support they can learn how to act responsibly and articulate their opinion, how to set good goals and achieve them. This last point is especially important nowadays when most teens have expectations of instant results.
Media literacy education goes hand in hand with life-coaching. Teach your child early on that the process is as important as the achievement. To become a successful YouTuber is too big a step at the beginning. It’s a long and complicated journey which consists of many small steps. Help your kid practice critical thinking, identify fake news and act as a responsible, proactive and intelligent user of the Internet.