I overheard this conversation between my husband and our 16-year-old girl. It went something like this.
Him: “How do you expect to accomplish anything in life, if all you do is sit around and watch YouTube videos all day?”
Her: (with the usual roll of the eyes) “Dad, puh-lease! Do you know how many millions of dollars these YouTubers make…?”
So, what if your “slacker” of a teen thinks he or she is destined to be the next YouTube sensation? Is that even a practical goal? Furthermore, if it is something they could actually achieve, is it something you even want for them or your family?
As a mom, of course, I want to encourage my daughter’s dreams of fame and success. But, I am also concerned about what the world of an “internet celebrity” can be like, or even about her sharing so much about herself and our lives, on the path to becoming one.
Apparently, I am not alone in those fears. According to a recent Common Sense Media report on family internet use, two of parents’ top worries were how much time tweens and teens spend online and the oversharing of their personal details. But the kids of “Generation Z,” made up of those born from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s – like my own daughter –see the internet as less of a worry, than an opportunity for fame and fortune.
Meridith Valiando Rojas, co-founder of DigiTour Media, the largest producer of live events featuring social media talent and author of Selfie Made: Your Ultimate Guide to Social Media Stardom, claims that “one of the top five career aspirations of Generation Z is to be a social media star.”
Who Can Create a Youtube Channel?
According to YouTube, children must be at least 13 years old to create an account. However, that doesn’t stop many parents from opening and managing channels for kids much younger. In fact, some of the most popular YouTube channels, such as Kids Diana Show and Ryan ToysReview (whose pint-size star reportedly made $22 million in a recent 12-month period), are hosted by kids as young as seven.
Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media’s senior parenting editor, advises a quick gut “well-being” check when your child comes to you with a plan for creating a YouTube channel. What’s their “why” for creating the channel? How much do they look to others for validation? How are they doing in school? And even if you’re satisfied with their answers, keep a close eye on the channel and your child. “Remember that this is a new frontier for parents and for kids,” says Knorr. “It’s like the Wild West.”
Rojas says there is the opportunity for stardom on YouTube, however, the idea of an overnight sensation is as much of a myth in the social media world, as it is in movies, TV, or theater. To be a breakout star on the internet – just like in Hollywood or on the Great White Way – takes hard work and a lot of it.
“It’s a lot of work, and really has to be led by the child,” says Yvonne Bartels, mother of actor, musician, dancer, and YouTuber Jayden Bartels, 14, of Los Angeles, California. Jayden currently has about 2.9 million Instagram followers and 675,000 subscribers on YouTube, where she uploads videos featuring pranks, challenges, clothing hauls, and performances.
“Jayden works hard. She does all of her own editing and concepts. YouTube is a fit for her personality and creativity and motivational level,” Yvonne says.
Jayden, an A student, is putting away the income she’s earning from YouTube for college, as well as using it for opportunities like traveling.
“It’s a job, and it takes time, commitment, and perseverance,” Yvonne says. She has had to commit, too. Yvonne has had to step down from her own career as the manager of a yoga studio to manage Jayden’s career.
The Dark Side of YouTube Fame
But, there can also be a downside to all this fame and fortune. Even kids – like my own who are far from social media celebrities – can get preoccupied with the number of “likes” or “followers” they get. I see this with her and her friends all of the time. For YouTubers who have achieved the level of “paid influencer,” this obsession can increase manifold, leading to stress, anxiety, and for at least one well-known YouTuber, a near nervous breakdown. Tanner Braungardt was a 14-year-old YouTuber who built his brand and channel featuring extreme sports and challenges to over 4 million followers. But, when a hack cut off his revenue stream, and later changes in YouTube’s algorithms caused him to lose millions of followers, his mother, Kim, said it nearly broke him emotionally.
Kim says. “His euphoria was so short-lived. The weight of that stress is what changed everything.”
Parents of other YouTube sensations relate similar experiences saying that it seemed the more successful their teens got, the more their spirits plummeted.
Many times it isn’t only the kid’s obsession with fame and following that drives them to the edge. It could be their “sponsors.”
Typical child performers in movies or TV, work under contracts, and their hours, schooling, and working conditions are strictly controlled. Coogan laws — so named for 1920s child-star Jackie Coogan, whose mother and step-father stole his fortune — also protect a certain percentage of their earnings until adulthood.
But YouTube’s creators aren’t subject to these regulations, so the only thing standing between a child and abuse is a parent.
What Kim has always told Tanner — and continues to tell him — is this, “Be you, and wake up every day knowing what your values are.” She also has some advice for parents of kids who are chasing those digital dreams, moving full-speed ahead and undaunted by the thought of all the work. “If it does take off, hope and pray you’ve done everything you can to keep them grounded. You be their safe spot and don’t treat them any differently.”
What do you think? Would you want your kids to have a YouTube Channel? Please reply using the comments below.