Young people are seeking out content created by online celebrities known as social media influencers to learn something, be entertained or be part of a community.
Influencers are known for having an area of expertise, experience or reputation. They create YouTube videos or social media posts that discuss specific interests like video games, beauty products or cooking, or show aspects of their daily life. These entertainers can influence their followers’ opinions, behavior and what they buy.
Pediatricians and parents should be aware of the potential positive and negative impacts on teens who view, engage and follow social media influencers, including the following:
- Children and teens can learn how to do things from social media influencers, which can foster creativity.
- Many influencers share personal details of their lives, which can create a sense of connection with the viewer. This one-sided “parasocial relationship” can be positive for young people, especially if the influencer promotes behaviors that aid development such as resilience, well-being or self-esteem.
- Teens may compare themselves to influencers or hold themselves to unrealistic expectations, which could lead to poor self-esteem.
- Teens might engage in risky behaviors (e.g., fad dieting) viewed on social media.
- Witnessing an influencer get into trouble or do something negative can be distressing to followers.
Parents and their children also should be aware that influencers earn money through advertising. Some of their content is meant to persuade followers to buy products, even if they do not explicitly promote the product. For example, an influencer showing his or her daily life may go to a fast-food restaurant. The viewer may not be aware that the restaurant paid the influencer to promote its food.
Pediatricians have an opportunity to counsel families on the impact of youth engagement with social media influencers. Here are some tips for anticipatory guidance:
- Encourage parents and caregivers to watch influencer videos with their teen and ask why a person is being followed and what their child has learned from the influencer.
- Advise caregivers to check periodically what online content their child is viewing and discuss the authenticity of the content.
- Urge families to set rules for use of electronic devices and social media viewing using the AAP Family Media Plan at https://bit.ly/3E5vYpg.
In addition to following influencers, some youths may want to become influencers themselves. Families should be aware of potentially problematic impacts on self-esteem as well as on work hours and academic performance, since teens may spend significant amounts of time creating and editing content and interacting with advertisers and viewers.
Dr. Evans is a member of the AAP Council on Communications and Media Executive Committee.