Would you raise your kid to be a social media star?

Platforms like Musical.ly, Instagram, YouTube, YouNow, Periscope, and more allow anyone with a phone and internet access to build an audience, and today’s teens are spending more time on their phones than ever. Ninety-four percent of teens access the internet using their phone daily and 71 percent use more than one social-media platform, according to a 2016 Pew study. The vlogger-to-riches story has become so prevalent in teen culture that, according to a 2014 survey by Variety, YouTube stars are more popular and influential than mainstream celebrities in the eyes of U.S. teens.

Parenting these young internet stars, however, is not easy. As social platforms rise and fall, moms and dads across the country with zero experience in the entertainment industry are seeing their families’ lives transformed.

Parents can go years thinking their son or daughter is just an average teen on YouTube or Instagram until one day a marketing manager at a Fortune 500 brand calls the house asking to collaborate, as happened to one mother I spoke to. Some parents don’t become aware until other kids begin asking their child for selfies in public, or when their youngsters begin receiving special treatment at local businesses.

Though parents are often inclined to see their kids as talented and exceptional, most would still be startled to learn that hundreds, or thousands, of other teens suddenly worship their son or daughter. Some young stars, like Jonas Bridges, are proud of their burgeoning follower counts and try to explain to their parents what’s going on, but frequently, as the famous Will Smith adage goes: Parents just don’t understand.

The first step parents of these chosen teens often take is to look for help making sense of it all. That could mean scouring Google and Yahoo Answers for advice, but more often it means turning to a business manager to put it all in context. Unfortunately, for every wide-eyed young internet star, there is a slew of dubious “managers” and “agents” looking to take advantage of teens—and their parents.

Parents of teen social-media stars aren’t just plagued by existential fears, but more immediate, physical threats, too. A parent’s most basic instinct is to protect their child, and when a crowd of thirsty fans descends, it can be scary.

Because of how quickly things can go awry, most parents I spoke with try to limit the times their children are in public without protection. This leads to families’ lives being severely restricted in terms of things they do together. Family movie nights at the local theater are canceled. Birthday dinners are held in private rather than at a public restaurant. If the family wants to travel to Disney World or attend a concert, prior arrangements must be made.

Even parents who take the most meticulous cautionary measures see their children’s whereabouts tracked 24/7 by fan accounts online. There are Twitter and Instagram accounts set up by fans to crowdsource sightings of their favorite internet stars and alert followers to their whereabouts everywhere they go. Because of the global reach of social platforms, most internet stars have fans all over the globe and it can seem like no matter where a parent takes their child, there are eyes on the ground. When a kid’s location is revealed, a flash mob can pop up in a matter of minutes. All it takes is one tweet.

Whether or not they choose to post content themselves, parenting a social-media celebrity does force parents to become adept at a new industry—and the new technology that comes with it. Adopting and mastering new platforms isn’t just fun and games for teen stars—it’s key to staying relevant.

If your fame comes from the social web, it’s important never to become overly affiliated with even the hottest app, lest it become passé by tomorrow. There’s also the volatile nature of the tech companies themselves to account for. If stars don’t diversify their audiences, an app could radically change its strategy tomorrow or be mismanaged out of existence, erasing years of hard work.

The job of evaluating the flood of new apps can frequently fall to a child’s parents.  The work it takes to support a young online influencer’s entertainment career often takes away from the time parents spend on their own work. No matter how involved parents are in their kids’ careers, the family dynamic inevitably changes when kids are earning huge amounts of money—from ads on their YouTube videos, sponsored content, merchandising deals, and brand partnerships. Not to mention that teen influencers are also bombarded with free products.

As the current class of influencer parents adjusts to a new normal, they are trailblazing a path for the next wave of stars. There is more information available online as more parents experience this phenomenon firsthand, meaning the parents of tomorrow’s internet stars may have an easier time navigating this world. And parents have become increasingly aware that their child could strike it big at any moment.

But the situation presents even more questions that are tricky to answer. How do you enforce rules and boundaries on children who frequently have more money than grown-ups, and thus, unusual levels of autonomy? Are all the stress and commitments that come with being a child internet celebrity really an unprecedented familial burden? Is raising a social-media star that different than raising, say, a gifted young athlete?

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  1. A very thoughtful topic. I would not like the notoriety but I suppose the money could put a kid through college. I have twin nephews who are very talented and put themselves on YouTube. I find it entertaining and feel proud of them yet a little frightened too.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. As my followers have gone from 20 to 135 in two months I don’t have to worry too much about internet fame. I don’t have kids but even trying to respond to every like, comment or follow on WordPress is tiring enough. Anyway, that is for this informative post and liking my post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you keep at it your follower count might increase tremendously! Just imagine there are even teenagers who blog as their full time job assuming of course that they are still studying. So keep at it. I’m a fan of yours so you’ve got my follower vote!


    • Interesting! Well, with the rise of many social media stars, it is possible but I always feel that sustaining the buzz is the difficult part. You just have to pick a niche sort of group (early adopters) rather than a broad based audience. It would give you that nice head start.


  3. Wow. I was a minor Internet celebrity circa 1997, which just meant that I was featured on CNN and CBS radio, among some other publications, just because a teen with a series of stories online was a big deal. I was proud to have 100 or so people on my update mailing list. The biggest thing that happened to me was that a Hollywood producer said his daughter liked my stories, and he therefore wanted to pitch my site’s concept as a Saturday morning cartoon. I corresponded with him for a while to try to get it going, and then asked him at one point if it mattered that I was only 16, whether that would be good for marketing it or something. He immediately wrote back to say he had assumed that someone putting this site together had to be over 18, and in this case, he would have to correspond with a parent or guardian. So I forwarded the email to my dad…who then lost it and didn’t take it seriously, mainly because he was so flabbergasted and didn’t think that could actually happen. The project, therefore, never went anywhere. (I could have bugged him more, but I was quite taken aback by the statement that the producer legally didn’t think he could talk to me, so I stayed out of it…for too long.)

    Just seeing how that relatively small amount of success boggled my family’s mind, I can’t imagine scaling it up to the level of attention that kids can get now with YouTube, where they’d actually be recognized on the street and where 100 followers is now considered insignificant. But even with this becoming a recognized phenomenon, I doubt that parents today are going to be more mentally prepared than my dad was when I forwarded him that producer’s email — and in today’s environment, that won’t mean that the project just fizzles!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Oh yeah, I definitely have. I did so more in my 20s and rather lost on my life path than I do now (mid 30s), but since I basically am just getting back on to that content-creation path, I figure it could have saved me a lot of time. On the other hand, my detours could be better described as “seeds of content” than “wasted time!” It’s so easy to idealize the path not taken, not realizing the negative things that would have unfolded because of it. Maybe I would have gotten pigeon-holed as a creator of kids’ content, when I wanted to be more than that; maybe I would have lost creative control and become disillusioned; surely something else undesirable that I can’t even imagine would have happened. On the other hand, the novel I’m working on now is for that age range. And it would surely have helped to have “cartoon show creator” on my resume. Ah well, such is life!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This is quite relevant. I’ve never thought about it this way, but if you allow your children to be on multiple devices, depending on how they engage, this could happen, for real, and more so (as you’ve noted) than in the past where people just hoped to be famous with an agent or something.

    Liked by 1 person

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