Talking to Your Kids When YouTube Stars Cross the Line

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By Tracey Dowdy

YouTube star Logan Paul is just the latest in an increasingly long line of YouTube stars who’ve been accused of offensive or even potentially illegal behavior. PewDiePie was accused of posting anti-Semitic videos, beauty blogger Zoella came under fire for homophobic comments she posted on Twitter years ago, and Michael and Heather Martin, the parents behind the DaddyOFive channel, were accused of emotional and physical abuse of their children. The Martins pleaded guilty to neglect and have been placed on five years of supervised probation.

Now, Paul has been called out for disrespectful behavior after uploading a video that contained a dead body hanging in Japan’s Aokigahara (Suicide) forest.

The problem is, other than the Martin’s supervised probation, none of these YouTubers have seen significant fallout or lost followers to their channel. In fact, Logan’s followers – the “Logang” as they call themselves – have rallied around him. While some followers have said he’s gone too far, his subscription numbers haven’t really changed, meaning he’s likely picked up quite a few new ones since the scandal hit. The majority of his income – $12.5 million last year – comes though ads on his channel, despite the fact YouTube takes 45% of revenue generated.

What’s downright offensive and crosses the line for an adult can seem like “no biggie” to a kid. When research shows teenagers find YouTube influencers more relatable than traditional celebrities, how do you teach your child to discern right from wrong? Or how far is too far, when celebrities like Paul inspire such loyalty and feel like friends to their audience?

Start by talking about YouTube’s “anything goes” culture. If the internet is the Wild, Wild West, YouTube is Westworld. The key to success on YouTube is amassing followers and the key to gaining followers is the same principle as gaining market share anywhere else – by doing things that make you stand out from the crowd. Analysts call this the “attention economy,” and it doesn’t matter if the attention is good or bad, just as long as it drives traffic to your web pages.

Next, talk to your kids about boundaries and respect. The perceived anonymity that gave birth to Internet trolls is the same disconnect that allows YouTube influencers and their followers to engage in questionable and downright dangerous behavior. Take all the challenges we’ve seen. Some, like the Ice Bucket Challenge, resulted in positive, real world change and advances in ALS research. Others, like the Cinnamon Challenge or the Salt and Ice Challenge, start to cross into dangerous territory. Don’t get me started on the guy who cemented his head in a microwave or the man participating in a Ghost Pepper eating contest, who subsequently spent 23 days in the hospital. It comes down to respect – respect for themselves and their own bodies as well as respect for others and their feelings.

Teens lack the ability to comprehend long-term consequences and, fortunately for influencers, fans have short memories while they’re big on forgiveness. Unfortunately, in the real-world, people are rarely as gracious or forgiving and teens may not be prepared or even have considered the after effects of their behavior. When influencers like Paul make poor choices, it all settles down in a couple of weeks. In high school, the stigma often lingers.

Above all, don’t minimize your teen’s feelings. Remember what it was like to be their age and make poor decisions and look up to individuals your parents didn’t approve of.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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