We are living in a very different world to the one we lived in 10 years ago, and that’s mainly as a direct result of technology. The emergence of a plethora of social media outlets that allow anyone with a smart phone or tablet to engage with the lives of those living thousands of miles away (or just down the road, but either way, it’s crazy what we can do now a days right?)
But although adults using social media and the internet comes with its own set of issues, the issues surrounding children using these outlets are equally as disturbing and important in their own right. The availability of smart phones and tablets to children has become the norm and they live their lives in the virtual world on a daily basis, away from the constraints of pre-set showing times. This emergence of technology has led to something frightening…parents in 2018 are faced with the question that parents from the 1990’s and early 2000’s would have never had to face… ‘Is it okay for my child to have a YouTube account?’.
YouTube has become the new ‘digital babysitter’ for parents around the world, an easy way to keep your child quiet for hours on end, with the top 20 kids channels reaching a staggering 5.2bn views in October 2017 alone. YouTube stars are the new celebrities and for the younger generation that are growing up engulfed by a need to follow their every move, it’s blurring the lines between reality and social media, which in turn is creating a very dangerous set of image conscious children. The popularity of independent ‘vloggers’ who constantly film their thoughts and feelings on life for thousands of followers to enjoy online, is already setting the future shape of marketing and advertising. But it’s also shaping our children’s minds…
These vloggers are usually young, fashionable and ‘on trend’. They have the perfect life, perfect relationships and are normally ultra talented at one thing or another; in a nutshell, they provide an unobtainable life that children as young as 7 are aspiring to create for themselves. There is a new pressure on kids to have certain merchandise from certain shops, to know about certain vloggers, to know about the coolest episodes or to emulate what they see on their screens. This pressure means that kids are not only competing with one another, but always and without fail, competing with themselves. Their self worth is being diminished by those that they idolise, and for many, they are seen simply as a pay cheque rather than ‘fans’.
Another aspect of Vlogger Culture that is a brand new issue being tackled by parents is the range of ‘challenges’ surfacing in which children are asked to compete in challenges. These challenges range painful to down right dangerous, including the ‘Salt and Ice Challenge’, ‘Neknominations’, ‘The Condom Challenge’ and ‘The Cold Water Challenge’. The challenges aren’t all physically dangerous however, the ‘Full face using only kids makeup’ makes fun of the makeup 8 year old girls would have loved to use before these trends began and encourages girls to adopt more grown up styles of makeup, again reiterating this unobtainable lifestyle and forcing these children to grow up far too quickly. These challenges encourage children to engage in dangerous, destructive and ill advised trends that follow suit from some of their favourite internet celebrities, showing us that YouTube is not only damaging to the children’s mental state, but quite often, their physical being too.
An issue that has existed since the birth of such advances technology is grooming and child predators. This exists within YouTube as seemingly innocent videos featuring some of children’s favourite characters can be targeted by child predators, leading to the disturbing reality of online grooming. For more information on how to tackle the issue of online grooming, head to https://www.internetmatters.org/issues/online-grooming/ for more information.
However, despite its downfalls, YouTube isn’t all bad, kids use the platform as a way to explore their interests and expand their knowledge whilst engaging with content that they would not be able to find at any time of the day on TV. It is clear that YouTube CEO’s are aware of this surge in their child centred audience, leading to their new venture, ‘YouTube Kids’. The service eradicates any chance of stumbling upon disgusting posts in the comments section that are rife on YouTube and completely eradicates the risk of stumbling upon inappropriate content, allowing children to enjoy their time on YouTube in a safe and controlled environment.
If there is one message coming through from the depths of YouTube, it is this. As always, keep an eye on what your kids are watching, because it’s the innocent celebrities staring back at them through their screens that can have the biggest, and sometimes most devastating impact. Culture and society are changing and the material children are engaging with is shifting to… but are we losing the nature of being a child all together as a result?