The rise of the internet has led to the rise of the social media influencer, altering the aspirations of children around the world. A recent survey of 2,000 parents of 11 to 16-year-olds shows that doctors (18%) are still number one on the dream job list, but they are closely followed by social media influencers (17%) and, more specifically, YouTubers (14%).
Being an online celebrity might look glamorous, but what are the risks? The digital world can hide a range of dangers, and it’s important that both children and their parents are aware of the threats.
Online hate is inevitable
Many young influencers, who base their self-worth on the likes and shares they receive, struggle if the interest of the online crowd fades. Basing self-esteem on public acknowledgement from strangers at an early age is risky – this is especially true considering that feedback on the internet can often be even more aggressive as anonymity is heightened and the commentator can hide behind their screen.
Any person in the social media limelight will inevitably have to face online hate. Comment sections flooded with hateful messages are an emotional drag while actual threats are frightening for anyone, no matter their age.
Parents can help their children by moderating comments and reporting inappropriate behavior to administrators, but this is not feasible when large numbers of people are involved.
Oversharing and online stalking
Kim Kardashian is one of the most influential figures on social media – someone who likes to post and share everything from her private life. During one of her visits to Paris this backfired in the worst possible way when she was robbed at gun point, with criminals stealing jewelry worth US$8 million. It later came to light that the heist was organized based simply on following Kim’s whereabouts on social media posts. This example of oversharing should be a warning to anyone, especially to young influencers who will do almost anything to please their followers.
Parental guidance at the start a child’s digital life is essential. It helps set healthy boundaries between public and private life on social media. Remember – anything posted online will stay there forever.
Followers are not real friends
Nowadays we spend so much time in the digital world that we often feel like it’s the real world, and so young children tend to overlook the simple fact that followers are not real friends. Anonymous online crowds will not be there when they need a break from the latest social media craze or be their confidant in difficult times. Real friends and family cannot be replaced and should not be neglected in favor of a digital life.
What else can a parent do to keep their children safe?
- Talk to your children and guide them through their experience online from a young age. If they pick up good habits when they’re young, there is a good chance they’ll adhere to them as teenagers. Keep the dialogue as open as possible. Make sure your children see you as a trusted advisor in case anything in their online lives goes wrong.
- If your young children follow an influencer, consider following the online celebrity too and keep an eye on what the influencer shares or posts. Be there to discuss with your child any inappropriate content that appears.
- Build bridges across the generation gap. When having a conversation with your child, listening can be more valuable than talking. Let your child know you’re interested in what they’re saying and lead by example – practice what you preach.
- Accept your child’s ambition to be an acknowledged content creator as an opportunity to be close to them and teach them more than just how to prepare their online stream. Keep yourself up to date with the latest trends amongst teens. You have responsibilities, but try not to act like an authoritarian figure. Make it clear that both of you are learning. That way you can enjoy a dialogue with your teenager at an age where communication can be particularly difficult.
- Use parental control tools that can help you to keep an eye on what your children are doing online and identify situations where they might need advice. With your support they can learn how to act responsibly and articulate their opinion, how to set good goals and achieve them. This last point is especially important nowadays when most teens have expectations of instant results.
To learn more about dangers faced by children online as well as about how not only technology can help, head over to the to the Safer Kids Online platform.