YouTube’s Growing Influence on Teens

I want you to think back to when you were a teen. What celebrities were most influential on your life?

My guess is that it would be an actor/actress from your favorite TV show or movie, a player on your favorite sports team or a musician in a band. Personally I was a huge fan of Sylvester Stallone and Dennis Rodman. Let me clarify that I was a fan of pre-freak-show Rodman when he was with the Detroit Pistons and they won back-to-back championships.

Looking back, my infatuation with these celebrities was wrapped up in the character they rockyplayed or the effort they displayed and less about who they were. I idolized Sylvester Stallone’s character Rocky. I was drawn in by the dedication, determination and will he displayed. I mirrored my style of play on the basketball court after Rodman’s. Diving for loose balls and recklessly going up for rebounds against bigger guys. That was the sum of what I knew of them, yet they were powerfully influential on my life.

Teens today want more. For someone to have influence on them they want to know their story, know they have things in common and feel that that person, in-part, represents their own aspirations in life. I believe this is true for two reasons.

One, teens have greater access to information than I did when I was a teen. They have the ability like never before to find out more about a celebrity beyond what they see on stage or the big screen. Finding out more can make the teen more or less interested in that person. If I would have known some things about Rodman back when I was a teen I may not have held him in such high regard.

Two, teens today have a strong desire for authenticity and affinity. To truly know someone else and feel connected to others. If they learn that they have similar interests and passions of a celebrity they like, the more they will feel connected to that  person. And ultimately that celebrity will begin to be influential on them.

With today’s teens desires to connect with others and the rise of the internet, it comes as no surprise then that YouTube personalities (A person or group that gains widespread recognition on the internet and beyond for videos they post on YouTube) are rising in the ranks of celebrities who are influential to teens today.

youtube-stars-shine-brightestIf you are not familiar with YouTube channels, here is a quick snapshot. Individuals and or groups create videos of varying lengths (sometimes multiple videos each day) on all sorts of topics from their daily life, dance, music, beauty/fashion tips, complete randomness,  or their own mini-shows. My kids personally love Kid Snippets videos where kids do the voice-overs for adults acting out situations. They are pretty funny. Some channels build a solid following with millions of subscribers and views on their videos.

Personally I have stumbled upon entertaining channels myself and before I knew it I had viewed a dozen videos by the same creator. I even found myself checking back for new content days later. Teens are digital natives and big users of YouTube and they are doing the same thing. For instance, a recent survey by Variety magazine “found the five most influential figures among Americans ages 13-18 are all YouTube celebrities,” not your traditional movie actors or actresses.

I asked Leo, a teen from southern California, to give me his thoughts on YouTube Celebrities being influential on teens today. Here are his thoughts:

In my opinion, I believe that they are influential and popular because they are associated with comedy, youth and consistency. YouTube stars tend to post content frequently, therefore gaining a much greater audience than say a mainstream actor who only comes out in a movie once or twice a year.

Most of the mainstream media actors do not have the interaction that the YouTube stars have due to the fact that they have no form of communication with their fans other than their social media. Even then they’re very limited towards what they can say. On the other hand, YouTube stars have the option of interacting with their audience through the form of a video which they can post at any time they wish. They have the liberty of voicing their opinion on their channel.

If you compare Felix Kjellberg (a Swedish video game commentator on YouTube known as PewDiePie) to Jennifer Lawrence, Felix posts content every single day. About two videos and each ranging about 7-10 minutes long. That has led to his HUGE success now with over 31 Million subscribers. Therefore he has a better interaction with his fan base community. Jennifer Lawrence on the other hand comes out in a hit movie every couple of months for about 2 hours. This amount of content and interaction plays big role because unlike Jennifer, Felix has public exposure everyday which keeps him very relevant in the media. What big celebrities struggle with is the fact that they cannot stay very relevant in the media. Right after a big movie or TV show is released, they just gradually lose the interests of the public.

If you still do not think teens are being influenced by YouTube stars, look at the fact the bethany-mota-at-teen-choice-awards-2014-in-los-angeles_21Teen Choice awards now have a category to recognize Web Stars. Bethany Mota and Tyler Oakley took home the 2014 honors for Web Star Female and Male by the way. Side Note: Bethany is also on the current season of Dancing with the Stars. Which leads to a whole other conversation around brands using YouTube Celebrities to influence teens for their brand. We will save that for another time.

Youth Worker and Parent Tips:

  • Learn who some of the popular YouTube celebrities are. Common Sense Media has an article titled 10 YouTube Stars Your Kids Love that i recommend you start with.
  • Use YouTube to create a common connection with your teen(s). Find a YouTube channel that you and your teen(s) both enjoy and is appropriate for their age and watch the videos together. Like I mentioned earlier my kids, who are not teens yet, enjoy Kid Snippets and we occasionally watch them together.
  • Have a discussion with your teen(s) about their favorite YouTube channels, why they like those channels and what is it about the videos that connects with them. You might learn something about your teen that you did not know or identify opportunities for you to connect better with them.

Teens are Getting Their Shake On!

If you have had access to the internet or a teenager in the last two weeks, by now you have probably heard about the Harlem Shake. It is the latest viral video craze that is sweeping the internet teens are getting in on the action.

Here is the basic context. You and your friends put on the song, Harlem Shake by Baauer. For the first 15 seconds one person dances awkwardly, often times with a mask or something covering their face, and everyone else pretends they do not see the person. After 15 seconds (when the songs beat changes) you cut to everyone dancing and going crazy. I know, complex isn’t it. If you have a few minutes or hours to spare just type Harlem Shake into YouTube and you will be amused for as long as you can take it. Here is one of the more popular ones on You Tube that currently has over 22 million views.

I talked to teens across the country and found that almost all of them have been in a Harlem Shake video (or several) with their school, team, youth group, Club, family or friends.

When trends or viral videos like the Harlem Shake pop up, and they pop up almost every month these days, some will say that they lead to negative behavior. This week I heard of two cases where teens were suspended from school for their roles in creating or attempting to create a Harlem Shake video. One case involved teens lying to their teacher about what they were doing and pushing the limits on the appropriateness of the dance moves they were doing.

Overall viral videos like the Harem Shake can be a lot of fun for teens. But we have to remember that teens are still developing and sometimes may not make the best decisions. This is often the case when viral videos or trends get teens in trouble. They see a video like the Harlem Shake and think about what they could do to be more outrageous and get more views or likes on YouTube. This thought can outweigh the logical thoughts they have and cause them to push the limits.

What do I suggest when it comes to trends like the Harlem Shake? I will give you an example. A friend of mine who is a pastor made the following tweet tonight: “Who’s up for a Harlem shake video at mid-week tomorrow night? Bring props and we’ll do it.”

I love it! He is recognizing the trend and engaging with teens in making their own video. This means they will have appropriate supervision and guidance but will also have a great time. It can also bring the group closer together through a fun mutual experience.

Youth Tip: Keep your eyes and ears open for the latest trends and figure out how you can engage with your teens in the latest trend. Also, have conversations with them about how far they are willing to go to get likes and views on social media.