Last night’s class discussion got me thinking about the impact of social influencers on my children and their friends. My kids are elementary school-aged. They do not own smart phones, but have Ipod Touches as well as access to an Ipad and a desktop computer. As much as I hate to admit it, they probably spend more screen time then they should. I’m not even sure of when or what attracted them to YouTube initially, but once they found it, it didn’t take long for them to be hooked. Not only do they watch YouTube, but spend countless hours pretending to make their own YouTube videos. My kids are not alone; every parent friend I talk with can sympathize and wants to rip their hair out every time we hear “Hey Guys”.
There are a few important things to consider, most importantly, are my kids safe? There has been a lot of buzz recently about YouTube illegally collecting data from kids. Earlier this month, 20 advocacy groups filed a complaint requesting the FTC investigate YouTube for violating the Child Online Privacy Protection Act. Essentially the purpose of that legislation is to limit data collection on children under age 13. We’ve spent a lot of time this semester talking about the amount of data that companies collect on us, but do they cross they line when the collect data on children? As a parent, I am going to say yes and even though the law agrees with me, it’s not that easy. Anyone can watch videos on YouTube without creating an account or kids can easily enter a fake birth year to create an account. Related to safety, it’s also important to consider the impact on kid’s mental health and behavior. One article pointed out that the 3 most commons negative issues related to YouTube are: Children watching sexually explicit content, children developing fears, and children copying irresponsible behavior. Bottom line is that we, as parents, must be vigilant in overseeing our children’s screen time. In addition, there are many apps, such as Bark, which can help us monitor online behavior.
In our house, I also worry that the social influencers are creating unrealistic expectations for my kids. One of my daughters recently purchased a book about one of her favorite social media stars, Karina Garcia. She has 7 million followers and is now valued at over $1.6M. She was able to move her family out of a mobile home and into a mansion in LA. Her claim to fame… making slime and posting her videos to YouTube. Another, Ryan Toy Reviews, was the youngest person ever to make Forbes list of Highest Paid YouTube Star, bringing in $11M with 10M followers; he’s seven. He unboxes, plays and reviews toys sent to him for free from various brands. While I value entrepreneurial spirit and wouldn’t complain if my kids were making millions of dollars before the age of 10, I want them to dream bigger.
As digital natives, that probably know how to use a smart phone better than I do, my children can’t escape the reach of social media influencers. I will encourage them to find their voice, continue to learn and value their experiences to become well-adjusted and contributing adults.