Understanding the influence of online influencers
Influence – it can be good or bad right? Our children are influenced by us, their peers, what they see online and in our communities. Influence that happens in our children’s immediate environments is much easier for us to see, control and combat than that which happens online. In the immediate environment, it might be the influence of a parent, a peer, a coach or a grandparent. We can expand, reduce or modify the amount of influence that immediate people have on our child with relative ease.
Online influence is so much harder. It’s harder in many ways to manage as a parent because in that space there are so many people with views and opinions that might appeal to our child that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. As an example, let’s use body image. Perhaps your home is all about eating for strong and healthy bodies. Online, they see celebrated bodies that are all about being skinny and sexy and they’re influenced to change their eating behaviours.
What they wear, how they behave, what they purchase, how they see themselves and the world – this is all heavily influenced in a child’s online life – often with a child completely unaware of the power of the influence over their young mind.
Lots of change in a little bit of time
It used to be that well known celebrities influenced us in our consumer choices. Whack George Clooney’s mug on a mug of Nespresso and bam, there’s a billion mummies interested. Influencers are different now – yes, celebrities still put their names to brands and products, but there’s a growing army of influencers who gain power and followers rapidly because of their opinions, their appearance, their content – and this isn’t always good for our children.
How do influencers influence?
It can be hard to understand the appeal of some influencers. Why would someone who appeared on a reality TV show and is completely out of touch with real life values and expectations be able to influence the buying power of a 15 year old girl when it comes to jeans or the colour of lipstick?
Influencers are usually people with a believable and authentic voice in a space that someone is looking for direction in. Children might want to know about the latest games and toys. Teens might want to know about fitness and fashion. Adults might show an interest in cooking, gardening, décor, parenting or travel. And in all those places there is someone with a believable voice doing the influencing. As soon as that person gains a following and rises in popularity, they take on the role of influencer and their voice becomes very important to the decision-making, thinking and behaviour of the followers.
Helping our children to sort the good from the bad
There’s nothing wrong with a teen who shows interest in the latest fitness, makeup or fashion trend. There’s a lot wrong when an influencer changes the way a young person thinks about themselves in terms of self-acceptance and self-love.
With a significant rise in eating disorders in both girls and boys, the undertaking of high risk and often illegal activities encouraged by an influencer, the unapproved purchasing of games or toys touted as a ‘must-have’ – we have to talk to our children about understanding and evaluating the power of an influencer.
I’m sure we’ve all had the conversation with our children in their growing up years about what’s fact and fiction when it comes to watching TV shows and movies. Almost every single parent has had the conversation explaining that Jaws, Freddy Kruger, zombies… aren’t real with a scared or upset child. Have we all had the same conversation though about influencers and their agendas because they’re every bit as important?
Here are some great tips to talk about influencers and their influence in ways that allow a child to explore the concept and to draw their own conclusions. It’s always best to start with some influencers that your child might know on YouTube, Twitch or Instagram and show them some of the people on your own socials who are influencers. Be prepared to listen carefully to your child’s reasoning and ideas – even if you strongly disapprove of the influencer.
Ask some open-ended questions and have a go at answering them with your own choice of influencer from one of your feeds – or a celebrity you follow. Here are some examples…
- Why do I believe in this person and their ideas or recommendations?
- Is there anything in this person’s influence that could hurt or harm me or others?
- Does this person feed into my fears and insecurities?
- Does this person have the same values as my family?
- Would grandma / uncle / aunty approve of this person’s ideas and opinions?
- What is the influencer’s reason for opinion or product promotion?
- Is this person trying to sell me something so that they make money?
- Is what this influencer says or recommends safe? Ethical? Moral?
These sorts of conversations are powerful with our young people. The ability to listen and not lecture I simply can’t say enough about. The child who feels heard and respected is far more willing to listen and to be willing to change their mind than the child who is told and commanded.
When it comes to influencers, their power, used in the wrong way, can take a happy, healthy developing mind and cloak it in fear, hate and shame. We all want our children to be positively influenced and to make sure that any ideas that take up residence in their minds are healthy ones that build on their self-worth and acceptance and their ability to be compassionate, inclusive and kind human beings.
In 21st Century digital parenting, we have to put effort and energy into teaching our children to become objective about those who wish to influence them so that we keep them safe from psychological and physical harm.
DiGii Social helps children and their families to learn the skills of being safe, civil and savvy online in their formative pre-teen years. It uses exceptional technology to provide children with a safe sandbox environment to do their messy learning in, gently guided by our virtual teacher. If you’d like to find out more about getting DiGii Social into your school, contact us HERE.