Now that YouTube has overtaken TV for teens — and is heading that way for younger kids — its stars have become celebrities to young fans. Most of us parents don't tend to tune into YouTube just to hang out and watch whatever comes on -- which is one way kids find out about these folks. So we find it hard to understand why people who broadcast using a webcam and an internet connection have such a powerful hold over our kids. But it's smart to have some awareness of your kids' media idols, perhaps especially on YouTube. Why? YouTube celebs are even more influential than traditional celebrities in shaping trends, guiding pop culture, and impacting opinions.
While plenty of YouTubers experience accidental fame, the ones that gain mega-popularity (such as Jenna Marbles with 17 million subscribers) work pretty hard at it. Good YouTubers are savvy about video creation and editing, know how to respond to what their viewers want, and excel at self-promotion on all social media, such as Instagram and Snapchat. They're also fast. Hosts can upload videos quickly because they don't have the same kind of production overhead of TV. This speed allows them to comment on news, pop culture, current events, and even video themselves on vacation or at the dentist's office. You may not see the appeal, but kids are all about being in the moment. Finally, many offer some type of expertise that kids are interested in. The insider tips on decorating, makeup, and fashion offered by British lifestyle guru Zoella has earned her 12 million subscribers. (Her delicate features and beautiful blue eyes don't hurt either.)
But as compelling as some YouTubers are to your kids, plenty aren't age-appropriate. For example, the Swedish gamer PewDiePie was discovered to have created racists and anti-Semitic videos (which caused YouTube to cancel a reality show he was set to star in). A lot of YouTubers take advantage of the platform's freewheeling nature to swear and make sexist, homophobic, and other offensive remarks. Even wholesome-seeming hosts go blue once in a while.
Here's the tough part for parents: The rebellious nature of some YouTubers often makes kids like them more. YouTube's unscripted, anything-goes quality is super appealing to kids. Maybe kids need a break from the world of school, rules, and chores. Maybe they're looking for others who validate their own thoughts and feelings, and these hosts can serve that purpose.
And while there are YouTube rebels, such as Jake Paul who pulls pranks and conducts general mayhem, there are also hosts who may use swear words or other negative imagery to express authentic feelings and emotions. The difference is important because at first glance you might lump them all together. Kids become attached to YouTube hosts in part because of their honesty and relatability. There's an intimacy that some YouTube hosts develop with their followers that isn't available on traditional media such as TV.
It's completely age-appropriate for kids to become devoted to certain media figures. But you want to help your kids find positive role models and other folks who use their platform for good. Being aware that, to your kids, these YouTubers have something meaningful to offer — even if you don't particularly care for them — is step one. Stay involved by watching together when you can. Ask questions about the hosts your kids like, what subjects they cover, and most important, what these topics mean to your kids. You may need to hold your nose or bite your tongue, but having an open mind will go a long way in your relationship with your kid. Plus, you can inject your own messages into the conversation to get your ideas across.