How can I help my child think critically about social media influencers?

Social media influencers affect many parts of children and young people’s lives online and off.

Get advice from our experts on helping children think critically about what the influencers they see online.

Dr Elizabeth Milovidov, JD

Law Professor and Digital Parenting Expert
Expert Website

How can I help my child think critically about the YouTube influencers they follow?­

Children can watch so many things on YouTube: videos made especially for kids or those made by others their age; educational videos, instructional gaming videos and so much more.

However, one thing is certain: children today are more with their favourite YouTube channels and YouTubers and, indeed, even aspire to become YouTube influencers.

Parents and caregivers should remember that the YouTube platform is for users over 13 with YouTube Kids available for under-13s. Therefore, it’s important the use the correct platform for their age to support their development.

Additionally, no matter which platform your child uses, parents and caregivers can make sure the content is appropriate for them. They can help children develop their critical thinking skills by making positive content choices.

What can I do to keep my child safe on YouTube?

  • Set the rules for watching videos and that your child (and family) agree with
  • Consider setting up a Supervised Account
  • Turn on Restricted Mode
  • For younger children, use YouTube Kids
  • Create playlists with approved content (don’t forget to watch the whole video before adding it to your playlist)
  • Watch the videos with your child and scroll through the comments as well; there may be some great teaching opportunities about empathy and resilience
  • Subscribe to approved YouTube channels so your child can watch their favourites. However, YouTube will still offer ‘recommended videos’ based on watch history unless you turn it off
  • If you’re unsure what your child is watching, you can check the watch history

What conversations should we have?

  • Discuss the importance of age limits and sticking to them
  • Teach them how to tell if something is an ad (look for the word ‘ad’ or ‘sponsored’)
  • Remind your child to avoid clicking on ads, no matter how enticing; they should talk to you first
  • Teach your child how to block and report videos
  • Talk about their favourite influencers; ask them questions and do your research to check them out. The YouTube influencer could actually be a great role model.

If time permits, watch those viral videos and the latest YouTube influencers with your child to spark a conversation about their online world.  You’ll be glad that you did.


Professor William Watkin

Professor of Contemporary Literature and Philosophy
Expert Website

How can I make sure my child isn’t negatively impacted by social media influencers?­

A social media influencer is an online star who uses their popularity to influence others to buy products that companies pay them to promote. Influencers are walking, talking, sharing and interacting adverts. With over 70% of teens saying they think YouTubers are more reliable than celebrities, it is perhaps not surprising that the social media influencer business is worth billions annually.

Documentaries like Netflix’s FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened have joined a host of voices concerned with the authenticity of the recommendations of social media influencers. While there is industry regulation, it is widely ignored and very hard to enforce.

To add fuel the fire of parents’ concerns, deepfake technologies and revelations that influencers themselves often fake their product endorsements to attract product endorsement, raise issues about children’s ability to separate fake from authentic opinions online.

The good news is the influencer industry relies on the trust established between a social media influencer and their audience. Influencers depend on daily interactions with their followers, so it is important they are seen as authentic and truthful.

Most social influencers in the UK at least follow the rules , such as using the #Ad hashtag to make it clear when a post or video is actually an ad. However, in an ever-changing industry worth billions, many just ignore the regulations.

It is often down to parents and children alike to develop their critical thinking and digital literacy skills so that they can separate adverts from advice.

Alan Mackenzie

Online Safety Specialist
Expert Website

How can I teach my child the difference between fact and fiction?­

As time moves on and technology evolves, so does the way technology is used. For example, AI (artificial intelligence) continues to change and find more use among all digital users.

Additionally, there are concerns around AI, CGI (computer generated images) and deepfakes, where images of individuals are mapped onto the face of an adult (pornographic) performer. These videos feel real, making it very difficult to tell if they are fake.

Within CGI, we also see a rise in fake influencers. For example, AI social media influencer, Lil Miquela, at one point had 1.6 million followers. It isn’t difficult to see that Miquela was computer generated in videos. However, you may be forgiven for thinking the images are of a real person with over-used filters. What’s more, advertising agencies are used the likes of Lil Miquela to ‘influence’ their products.

How can I help them think critically?

So, why use CGI? I’m sure there are many reasons (e.g. you don’t have to pay a real influencer), but advertisers have also always used cartoons to engage children and young people. As such, this just seems a modern version of that, albeit more realistic.

Then, how do you teach your child what is and isn’t ‘real’ online?

It all comes down to critical thinking — the same logic we apply to any area of our lives. Ask children:

  • What is the purpose of this image/video?
  • What is the social media influencer trying to persuade their followers to do?
  • Why is the influencer talking about this particular product?

What can parents do to help children think critically on YouTube?

YouTube and YouTube Kids offers amazing opportunities for children. However, there is always the potential for something unsavoury such as inappropriate content or people (real or virtual) trying to influence the children to say, do or buy something.

You can help them become critical thinkers while staying safe with the following actions:

  • Watch a few of their favourite channels with them and discuss why they favour those channels. Talk to them about critical thinking by using simple questions such as those above.
  • If they are using YouTube to view videos about their hobbies, search together and discuss why you feel certain videos or channels are inappropriate. Children need to know what the boundaries are, and they will only know if you tell them.
  • Browse through the history every now and again just to satisfy yourself that nothing is untoward.
  • Let them know to come to you if something isn’t right; let them know that you won’t judge them or take away their device if they ask for help.

A parent’s perspective

As a parent I am all too aware of how fascinated children are by social media influencers. It’s not uncommon to catch my children giving a guided tour of their world, mimicking their favourite YouTubers with phrases like ‘Comment below’, or setting up pranks (usually at my expense).

I struggle to understand their love for characters who do monotonous sketches, and I feel troubled when influencers are overly materialistic, showing off flashy houses and cars or an unattainable lifestyle.

As parents, we need to help our children find influencers who are positive, who support a cause or promote skill and creativity over a flashy lifestyle. We need to understand and celebrate what is truly real, beautiful and uplifting over fake or terrifying.

It’s all out there, our job is to help our children find it – or even create it!