First, some disclaimers.
When my son Gideon was in kindergarten and first grade, I indulged him by recording countless hours of hyperactive, unseen-outside-the-family DVDs he called The Gideon Channel. For more than seven years, we have made annual trips to the local radio station to cut commercials for my retail day job.
But that’s as far as I exploit him (outside of this column). So, I was flabbergasted to see a CBS News report about the phenomenon of “kid influencers” dominating Instagram, YouTube and other social media platforms.
Precocious children living out their lives in front of a webcam (interspersing their antics with commercials, using the sponsor’s products onscreen, etc.) could be an $8 billion industry by the end of the year. (Even more if UPS and Johnny’s parents can figure out a way for Johnny to unwrap Greenland for his breathless audience.)
The major online platforms prohibit accounts by youngsters under age 13, but parents can certainly take charge of building the media empire on behalf of the tykes. Remember when parents said, “Hold down that racket”? Now it’s “Help me RUN this racket. Oh, the wheels on the bus go KA-CHING KA-CHING…”
While ostensibly having fun, “kid influencers” are saddled with helping major brands manipulate the purchasing decisions of other youngsters and their parents. Forgive me, but I tend not to take stock tips from somebody with an office in a 1973 Ford Pinto or cereal/toy/sneakers purchasing suggestions from someone who thinks a cake should be baked for 100 hours at zero degrees!!!
I was brought up in the “children should be seen and not heard” era, so I’ll admit I probably have an inherent resistance to “kid influencers.” Yeah, their channels influence me all right - to switch over to the Yoko Ono With A Sore Throat Channel!
Deep-pocketed advertisers seek out younger and younger kids to promote their wares, but sometimes they go a little too far. It’s hard to endorse an energy drink when the only liquid you’re acquainted with is AMNIOTIC FLUID.
Remember when kids wanted to do something challenging, like becoming a nurse, cowboy, astronaut, or president? According to CBS, “becoming a social media star” is one of the most popular career aspirations named by kids in a recent survey. Save lives? Lead the free world? Nah, let’s capture the attention of perverts, jealous classmates and klutzes who can’t find the water-skiing squirrel videos.
The wide-open industry worries childrearing experts. With no regulations on amount of screen time, accounting or working/playing conditions, things could get grim. (“My momma always said never to run with scissors. She never said anything about not running with this new Stihl model MS 170 chainsaw!”)
LEVEL-HEADED parents can maintain a sense of balance in the lives of their “kid influencers.” But they will face unrelenting pressure to increase profit quarter after quarter. (“Are you SURE there’s no chance of my delivering conjoined quintuplets, doctor? It would mean so much to my other child, Asset One.”)
Like former child stars of film and TV, online sensations may be totally unprepared for their cuteness to expire. Big brother’s voice changes? Time for little sister to become the favorite child! Circle of life. Or circle of death, when a grizzled big brother someday picks a fight in a bar. (“I can whip any man in the place! Where’s my &^%$#s Nerf bat???”)
Danny welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”