If your child has not already posted a video on YouTube, due to parental control, shyness, or inertia, she is most likely in preparation mode. Check her room; the evidence abounds. In the corner, do you see a mini stage set for something collectible, plastic and aggressively marketed? Flick your eyes across the pages of her notebooks, you might come across a script for the Shopkins character Apple Blossom – the “saucy, adventurous girl with big dreams” who is in the fruits and vegetables team in the grocery store-themed toy collection.
Our school-age children inhabit a world of self-produced young YouTube celebs. With no gatekeeper, the You-Tube-iverse promises accessible, overnight stardom, and followers. Clips are often filmed in their bedrooms, with negligent production value. Thousands of videos feature a “taste test challenge”, where a blindfolded kid or adult eats a cow tongue or frog legs and makes a face or shrieks in horror.
The generational divide is right there, between those who find such things entertaining and those who don’t. Many of our children hope to be next in line, after YouTube sensations Jazzy or Miss Monkey. After all, your child can put on a blindfold, eat gross stuff and scream, too.
In our house, we are late to the party. Reality deniers. The request has been on the table for more than two years, but we have held back for various reasons, most of which correlate to age group.
We object on the grounds of collective knowledge: what could a child between the ages of 4 and 12 possibly have to say that the world needs to hear? Lots, it turns out.
Children have all kinds of filmable talents. They demonstrate guitar chords, dance moves, cooking tips, indoor football stunts, basketball tricks, and original Lego designs.
But we worry about the permanence of the internet, because nothing is every truly erased. What if the child wants to run for office one day and is held back by the sheer ridiculousness of said video? Most likely, she will be in good company.
We anticipate the slippery slope of narcissism. The child will conclude that eating, brushing her teeth and chatting to her friends are activities the rest of the world needs to see. With or without YouTube, our children are already rolling down this hill, cameras and selfie-sticks in hand.
We want to protect them from vicious or threatening comments made by anonymous trolls – stupid, ugly, wish you were dead. Privacy settings and the comments-off switch take care of that. If only there was an off switch for playground teasing.
We fret over the dangers of internet predators. We object to YouTube, but regularly post pictures and videos on Facebook that reveal identifying details, including locations and times that make it easy to track your child (see box for safety tips). Once certain safety measures have been put in place, including an account in the parent’s name, with comments turned off, these dangers are minimised.
Ultimately, we realise that the very idea that you can keep your child off YouTube is a thing of the past. She is already on YouTube, if she goes to school. Almost every school has its own YouTube channel, where clips are posted of events, assemblies, talent shows, and more.
The next generation of parents are all about putting their kids on YouTube and making money from sponsors in the process. Take Breanna Youn, the 5-year-old Korean-Filipino singing prodigy adored by millions. By invitation, her family moved to Dubai to reap the rewards of her popularity, after droves of fans in the region spotted the cute girl’s short videos on Instagram and began reposting them.
Her fame has seen the toddler fly first-class, drive around in limousines and carry Louis Vuitton handbags.
Derrick Best is one dad who looks forward to the day his daughter, who is 2, will be old enough to showcase her talent.
“It’s about exercising her creativity,” says the 28-year-old Briton. For him, the social-media enterprise stretches children’s abilities. While parents maximise sponsorship and other perks, legislators in several countries are scrambling to draft laws that limit a child’s YouTube working hours and overall exploitation.
My objections have proved to be outdated and somewhat irrelevant. A YouTube post created by my child is inevitable; not a question of if, but when. So when my daughter is ready to post – which is to say, yesterday – my hope is that she makes the most of the medium. I hope that she does her research, and instead of adding more taste-test challenges, says something of her own.
I wish that her future contribution is more “Miranda Sings”, who makes crankiness an art form, than “Zoella”, who teaches hairstyling and make-up tips. May she write suspenseful scripts, rehearse and incorporate constructive feedback into her repertoire. When she does run for office, I am crossing my fingers that people will look at her past videos and shake their heads in wonder that someone so young could be so talented.
Who is Miranda Sings?
Miranda Sings is a character developed by Colleen Ballinger in 2007 to parody the attempts of her music-school classmates to gain stardom by singing on YouTube. She defies the pretty-girls-only YouTube zeitgeist and comes out on top, with 5.8 million subscribers in 2015.
• Popular girls don’t have to be stylish. Miranda wears cat sweaters or plaid shirts with red sweatpants pulled all the way up. She cannot, for the life of her, figure out how to apply “listick” (one of her homophonic misspellings) within the boundaries of her lips, but that doesn’t stop her from touring the world with live shows, writing a best-selling book, Selp-Helf (not a typo), and starring in an upcoming Netflix series.
• Fear no one. When Miranda met Jerry Seinfeld for coffee, she started by telling him how much more famous and funny she was compared to him, and proceeded to subvert all his attempts at witty banter.
• It’s cool to be cranky. Females are conditioned to smile to ingratiate themselves, but Miranda takes exception to
this. Her scowl and disapproval of almost everything is a breath of freshly soured air.
• Haters back off. Like most YouTube celebs, Miranda gets her share of hate mail. She reads these letters online and cries overblown crocodile
tears, then amps up the behaviour they told her to stop. Don’t like her “listick”? She’ll smear on more.