Are Your Children Obsessed With YouTube Role Models?

In today’s saturated digital world, guiding your child toward positive online role models is more important than ever. Many Australian children enthusiastically tune in to YouTube daily [1], with 96% of young people watching videos for an average of 11 hours per week [5] and many citing YouTube celebrities as their most influential role model in the media [7]. Evidence shows that YouTube role models who create a bond with young audiences exert a powerful influence on their attitudes, beliefs and behaviours [1, 2, 4]. This article discusses why YouTube personalities appeal to children and teens and provide guidelines to help families steer their youngest members toward positive values and critical thinking about the videos and role models they discover online.

What is the appeal of YouTube role models?

Many young people idolise YouTube personalities and trust them as friends and subject matter experts [1]. Depending on your child’s age, the reasons for this appeal may include:

  • Entertainment value – They provide entertainment through humour or share an interest, passion or hobby that your child enjoys [4]
  • Relatability – They build intimacy with fans by sharing intimate glimpses of their life [1], providing empathetic advice like a friend or mentor, or speaking candidly about personal or sensitive topics that impact young people’s lives such as bullying, friendship, mental health, relationships, sexuality, racism or sexism [7]
  • Approachability – Many YouTube role models cultivate a close-knit online community by personally replying to fans’ YouTube comments and questions seeking advice, building a friendly and active social media presence, and setting up live video streams that allow young people to ask questions in real-time [2]
  • Authenticity – Their videos often appear natural, unscripted and relaxed [2]

While younger children may enjoy imitating or pretending to be their favourite role models, teenagers like to have their personal experiences or opinions validated by a like-minded individual [3]. According to a Google study, 40% of millennial YouTube subscribers believe their favourite YouTube role models understand them better than their real-life friends [9]. Many YouTube personalities’ perceived level of openness and availability means that teens often identify with them more than television or movie celebrities, who rarely engage as closely with their fans [7].

Are young people aware of how their YouTube role models influence them?

Research shows that most children and teenagers are not consciously aware of YouTube role models’ influence on their values or behaviour [1]. In a recent Dutch study exploring how teenagers perceive YouTube personalities, most respondents stated that their influence on their personal lives and decisions was minimal [1]. However, when questioned further, many admitted to purchasing a product based on a YouTube role model’s recommendation, following their life advice or copying their behaviour. When asked whether they believed they would immediately recognise sponsored content in an online video, the majority were confident they would. However, when a research experiment presented these respondents with a YouTube video containing a sponsored message, they did not recognise promotion as the video’s goal [1].

Tips for parents of young children (aged 2 to 5)

Before a child begins school, parents are their primary influence and exercise a powerful role in shaping their beliefs and digital media consumption. During this stage, it is crucial that families set up a strong foundation that helps a child normalise and internalise good values to shape their responses to media in future.

  • Guide your young child to watch online videos and YouTube role models who impart beneficial values [2] and social lessons like sharing and treating people with respect [3]
  • Choose age-appropriate content featuring racial and gender diversity with no stereotypes [3]
  • Limit screen time to a certain amount of time per day [2] and encourage non-digital forms of play that emphasise personal interaction and learning, such as playing outdoors, building, drawing and reading [3]

Tips for parents of primary school-aged children (aged 6 to 11)

During this stage, a parent’s role is to continue supporting a child’s consumption of positive digital media and provide them with a strong moral framework to evaluate negative values and messages.

  • Encourage your child to embrace YouTube role models with inspirational values that enrich their learning or imagination [3]
  • Nurture critical thinking by asking them to consider whether the content they view online matches with their personal or family values [7]
  • Embrace multi-dimensional depictions of gender, ethnicity and religion in media, e.g. encourage boys and girls to watch online videos that feature strong, likeable and well-developed female characters and media that do not attach a stigma to masculine emotional expression [2]
  • Discuss why stereotypes in media can be harmful [2] and encourage empathy for a wide range of perspectives [4]
  • Identify and discuss negative examples of behaviour in YouTube videos that you would like your children to avoid and their consequences, e.g. unsafe behaviour or cruel remarks [3]

Tips for parents of teens (aged 12 to 18)

This stage is about giving young adults the opportunity for independence, while ideally acting as a trusted advisor.

  • Embrace the digital media that your teen enjoys with enthusiasm with a goal of understanding why they appreciate it while establishing clear boundaries about what you find acceptable [3]
  • Prompt teens to critically assess the truthfulness, validity and attitudes embedded in the online media they consume [2]
  • Encourage teenagers to communicate and use YouTube and social media channels wisely and ethically [3]
  • Give them the freedom to watch media whose implicit or explicit values you disagree with and use those experiences as opportunities to discuss the values depicted in or missing from the content [3]
  • Recognise that a teen’s need to rebel and express themselves through media choice is normal and reinforce the importance of balancing this independence with empathy for others [3]

Tips to find positive YouTube role models

Rather than resisting the cultural phenomenon of YouTube personalities, it’s best to take a proactive approach to finding beneficial role models that reinforce values you would like your children to adopt. To find role models tailored to your child’s age and interests, consult Common Sense Media’s resource on Positive Role Models on YouTube [4].

Final thoughts

With the rise of online videos and social media, YouTube role models are a leading influence in many young peoples’ lives [1]. Instead of attempting to resist this digital revolution, parents should aim to guide their children toward positive role models and online video content that supports their learning invigorates their passions and promotes healthy values that support their well-being [4]. As children grow older and broaden their digital media consumption, it becomes crucial to empower them to think critically about the online video content they encounter.  

References

  1. http://essay.utwente.nl/71094/1/Westenberg_MA_BMS.pdf
  2. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/youtube/why-is-my-kid-obsessed-with-youtube-stars
  3. http://www.mothermag.com/media-role-models-for-kids/
  4. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/positive-role-models-on-youtube
  5. http://contentmarketing.com/2016/02/02/your-kids-new-role-models-are-all-youtube-stars/
  6. http://www.smarterparenting.com/blog/single/Youtube-stars-arent-role-models
  7. https://www.forbes.com/sites/under30network/2017/06/20/why-youtube-stars-influence-millennials-more-than-traditional-celebrities/#2653545948c6
  8. https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/consumer-insights/youtube-stars-influence/

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