As lockdowns and isolation continues, the lure of the internet as entertainment remains paramount. What’s a bored teenager to do? For many a teen (and even a child) becoming a star—on YouTube, Instagram, gaming, or TikTok—seems like the answer. But how do they become a teenage influencer, and is it a good idea?
Minors with the time and energy often produce innovative and entertaining content. Plus, there’s opportunity to make serious money. But, can they handle the psychological challenges that come with internet success?
Regarding Internet child stardom, media psychologist Dr. Don Grant feels the money might not be the right trade-off. He uses a hypothetical Fortnight gaming child star as an example. “Where’s his childhood,” Grant says to Parentology. “Does he need to make $200,000? Is that what he needs? Fortnight will end, and it looks really great right now, and the money is really attractive, but Fortnight will not last forever.”
Grant also points out that the time investment in becoming an internet star might hinder other types of development. “Spending 18 hours a day gaming, for a kid, I’m wondering about his hygiene, sleep, nutrition. I’m talking about health hygiene. If he is playing 18 hours a day, is he developing social skills in real life to make friends, to create communities that are not Fortnight, and what happens when Fortnight ends?”
Fame and Emotional Immaturity Aren’t a Recipe for Longevity
Navigating fame requires maturity and the ability to set boundaries, both traits kids and teens usually lack solely because of their age. Plus, the world is rife with examples of child stars of all stripes who later crashed and burned.
“We’ve had cases of child stars in different eras and different times. But this is a more enhanced and hyper version of that,” Ciarán Mc Mahon, PhD, the author of The Psychology of Social Media, told Insider. “I don’t know how that will work out, but history would suggest that it’s not going to be pretty.”
Standing up to criticism via negative comments is another common online situation, and it’s a real risk for minors.
“A large volume of negative comments, or even a single one, can have a devastating impact on a kid’s self-esteem. TikTok, and other social networks, such as Instagram and Facebook, have been criticized for having negative effects on one’s confidence. This can deeply hurt one’s mental health. There have been instances where kids turned to self-harm or faced other issues, such as anorexia and bulimia, because of social media,” writes the site Cyberwise.
Plus, the more popular and successful a minor becomes online, on any platform, the more negative commentary they might receive. It’s a vicious cycle.
How to Safely Support a Child
Even with all the negatives, internet stardom leads to often sizable incomes, as well as opportunities to have a positive impact on the world.
For example, a teenager specializing in TikTok makeup tutorials used the platform to discuss China’s human rights violation of Muslims. Charli and Dixie D’Amelio, two of the most famous people on TikTok, have already participated in multiple efforts to help the collective good, including a recent anti-bullying project with Unicef and promoting body positivity. Dixie D’Amelio told Insider in a previous interview that she loves using her platform to “raise awareness and money for good causes.”
CommonSense Media has a list of suggestions for parents interested in creating a safer YouTube channel for their kids. These suggestions, however, can apply to numerous online platforms.
- Have a plan.
Ask her to create a proposal for her channel that describes what she wants to offer, who the audience is, how often she’ll post, whether she’ll take advertising, and other considerations.
- Talk about content.
Now’s a good time to discuss what’s okay to post, what should remain private, and other
- Do a “beta launch.”
Take a page from the book of many tech start-ups and start small to work out the kinks. Start with strict privacy settings and a limited audience of trusted friends and family, and ask for constructive feedback on what’s working and not working.
- Check in.
Once she’s up and running, continue to support her. Unexpected issues — both positive and negative — are sure to come up. Knowing she can rely on your support is a big deal.
- Handle feedback.
Teens are often surprised to discover that not everything they upload receives universal praise. YouTube comments are notoriously harsh, but dealing with feedback is a learning experience.
- Designate it “for kids.”
If the video is marked for kids, it should hit its intended audience (instead of the general YouTube viewership.) Another benefit: comments are automatically disabled on videos designated for kids.
Social media expert Pam Moore thinks that parents need to be front and center in order to protect a minor’s privacy. “YouTube is just a medium,” she told CNBC. “Most parents wouldn’t let their kids hang out all night at a dark park with strangers. The same should go for online. Know what they are doing, who they are hanging out with and what they are talking about and why.”