Ask a kid nowadays what they want to be when they grow up, and you might hear an enthusiastic, “A social media influencer!” But what is an influencer and why is it one of our kids’ top dream jobs? Is there really a path to online fame and easy money for our kids?
Last October, young people couldn’t get enough of Fleetwood Mac’s song “Dreams.” The catchy tune hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Rock Digital Song Sales chart and averaged more than 1 million streams each day.
What’s so unusual about this chart-topping success is that “Dreams” originally released in 1977. Why the sudden interest in a song that came out decades before streaming was possible? Was it part of a soundtrack? Featured on a commercial or popular TV show? No, “Dreams” hit the charts after TikTok user 420doggface208, whose real name is Nathan Apodaca, included it in a video.
Nathan is a social media influencer — someone who posts videos hoping to generate viral interest and a large viewership. And for Nathan, it’s working. His lighthearted videos have amassed 6.6 million followers and 88.8 million likes. His success, and others like him, make being a social media influencer one of our kids’ new dream jobs.
The Allure of Being a Social Media Influencer
Those big numbers generate more than just bragging rights. There’s big money involved, too. It comes from the platforms, as well as paid sponsorships from companies looking to leverage an influencer’s popularity.
The biggest influencer in 2019 was 9-year-old Ryan Kaji, the star of YouTube’s most profitable channel, Ryan’s World. His challenges, toy reviews, and pseudo-educational videos have garnered 29 million subscribers and a whopping 46 billion views. Oh, and $26 million in 2019. Not bad for a young guy who’s still in elementary school.
Those sorts of numbers help explain why “social media influencer” and “YouTube star” have become popular career aspirations for many young people. A Harris Poll/LEGO survey of kids in the U.S., Britain, and China found that 29% of 8 to 12-year-olds want to be YouTubers — three times as many as want to be astronauts. Among teens, 54% want to be social media influencers. This has obviously become one of our kids’ top dream jobs.
It’s not hard to see where those aspirational impulses might be coming from. Popularity, influence and money have been some of the main building blocks of teens’ self-esteem for a couple of generations now. And when it comes to the role of a social media influencer, those elements have coalesced into something many tweens and teens think they could do, too. When they see a youngster like Ryan playing with toys and raking in millions, they might easily think, “I can do that.”
In years past, young people might have been similarly infatuated with the idea of becoming a rock star or actress. But the odds stacked against them were formidable and obvious. Becoming a social media influencer and raking in millions seems more attainable. After all, the only thing you need is a camera, a pretty smile, and a bit of viral luck, right? Not so fast.
Marketing analyst Natalya Saldanha understands that kids may be drawn to the apparent ease of achieving fame and mega-success simply by opening toys, but reality is something very different.
“The fact is most wannabe influencers have as much a chance of walking on the moon as they do of emulating Ryan Kaji,” Natalya writes. “They’ll be lucky, in fact, to earn as much as someone working at a fast-food joint.”
Being a successful social media influencer is all about one thing: consumerism. It’s about identifying and promoting products — at least if you want to get paid. In an article titled “How Your Kid Can Become a Social Media Influencer,” Shay Jiles talked with DFWChild about how she and her children promote their Instagram channel. “Make sure you are tagging your posts,” she noted, “everything from the chips you are eating to the shoes you are wearing, so the brand picks it up and reposts it.” Then you have their followers saying, ‘Who are these people?’”
Connecting as a Family in a Tech Absorbed World
Practical Concerns for Parents
Even if your child understands that becoming a social media influencer is much harder than it looks, there are more practical concerns parents need to be aware of.
First, personal security issues remain a real concern. A successful social media star by definition has millions of eyeballs on him or her. And though I’m sure, for instance, that young Ryan’s parents have spent a good deal of his fortune securing a safe place to live, they have no idea who is watching those videos or how people are interacting with images of their son. As a parent of kids in that age range myself, I find that more than a little unsettling.
There are also spiritual questions to ponder. Even though a social media influencer is invariably pushing a product, the product is ultimately the person doing all that pushing. A lack of likes, demeaning comments about appearance, and criticism, in general, are all a part of the deal here. For a young person whose identity is increasingly wrapped up in his or her online persona, the question of how all that might shape his or her soul is a serious one indeed.
It’s good for kids to dream about who they might become and the kind of influence they hope to have in our world. As parents we have a responsibility to understand how social media is reshaping their understanding of what that influence might look like, and to respond with wisdom and discernment as we help them navigate our changing times.
Conformed or Transformed?
Maybe your kids have no desire to become internet stars, and being a social media influencer is not one of your kid’s dream jobs. But are they following social media influencers? Here are important questions to dive into as a family:
- Which social media voices do you pay attention to or follow?
- What makes those people attractive to you?
- Which products are they trying to sell?
- What would you say your favorite influencers’ effect is on you?
- Do their videos make you want to buy certain things?
- Do they communicate the idea that you need to change something about yourself to be acceptable?
Social media influencers may be a new thing in the lives of tweens and teens. But the concept of influence — of what values are shaping their hearts, beliefs, and convictions — goes back a great deal further. In Romans 12:2, Paul wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”
Paul understood that the world’s value system is constantly squeezing and molding how we think and what we consider to be most important. The only antidote to that is focusing on biblical truth. Only then we can recognize and embrace “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” (Philippians 4:8).