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

Get advice from our experts on the increasing impact of social media influencers on young people’s lives and what you can do to ensure the influence of these influencers on your child stays positive.

Dr Elizabeth Milovidov, JD

Law Professor and Digital Parenting Expert
Expert Website

­How can I ensure that my child is critical about what they see online and is positively influenced by influencers they follow?

There are so many different things that children can watch on YouTube: videos made for especially for children; videos made by other children like them; educational videos, instructional gaming videos and so much more.  But one thing is certain, children today are more and more engrossed with their favourite YouTubers and indeed, they even aspire to become YouTubers themselves.

Parents and caregivers should remember that the YouTube platform is for users 13+ and YouTube Kids for the under 13s.  No matter the platform that your child uses, parents and caregivers, can ensure that children develop critical thinking when choosing what videos to watch and what influencers to follow.

Guidelines for watching videos

  • Make sure that you set the rules for watching videos and that your child is in agreement
  • Consider setting up a family account
  • Turn on safety mode
  • For younger children create playlists and don’t forget to watch the video in its entirety 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 YouTube channels so your child can watch her favourites but remember that YouTube will still offer “recommended videos” unless you turn it off
  • Teach your child to respect the over 18-age limit
  • Remind your child to avoid clicking on ads, no matter how enticing
  • If you’re unsure what your child is watching, you can check the watch history
  • Teach your child how to block and report videos
  • If your child raves about a vlogger or YouTube influencer, do your research and check them out. You may be pleasantly surprised that the vlogger is a great role model.

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


Professor William Watkin

Professor of Contemporary Literature and Philosophy
Expert Website

What do I need to know about online influencers to make sure my child is not negatively impacted by what they see?

An influencer is a social media star who uses their popularity to influence others to buy products that companies have paid them to promote. Influencers are walking, talking, sharing, and interacting adverts. With, according to Influencer Market Hub over 70% of teens saying they think YouTubers are more reliable than celebrities, it is perhaps not surprising that the online influencer business is currently valued at $6.5 billion dollars a year.

Recent 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, especially stateside, and very hard to enforce. To add fuel the fire of parents’ concerns, recent deep-fake phenomena like AI influencer Lil Miquela, and revelations that influencers themselves often fake their product endorsements so as to attract product endorsement, raise issues yet again about our ability to separate fake from authentic opinions online.

The good news is that the industry is based on the trust that is established between an influencer and their audience. Influencers are nearly always experts in their chosen areas and depend on daily interactions with their followers, so it is important that they are seen to be authentic and truthful. Most influencers in the UK at least follow the rules , for example using the #Ad label to make it clear when a post or video is actually an ad, but 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 digital literacy so that they can separate adverts from advice.

Alan Mackenzie

Online Safety Specialist
Expert Website

How do I teach my child the difference between what is real, what’s fake and what’s virtual?

As time moves on and technology evolves, so does the way in which that technology is being used, for example AI (artificial intelligence) and CGI (computer generated imagery). You may have heard of the increasing concerns over deepfakes, where images of individuals (usually female celebrities) are mapped onto the face of an adult (sexual) performer. These videos are concerningly realistic, it’s very difficult to tell that they are fake. But within CGI we’re also seeing a rise in fake influencers too. For example, take a look at ‘Lil Miquela’ on YouTube or Instagram where she (it?) has 1.6 million followers. It isn’t difficult to see that Miquela is computer generated. You may be forgiven for thinking the images are of a real person and filters have been a little over-used, but the videos clearly show that it’s CGI. What’s more, advertising agencies are using the likes of Lil Miquela to ‘influence’ their products.

You might be asking why use CGI? I’m sure there are many reasons (e.g. you don’t have to pay a real influencer), but cartoons have always been used in the past to engage with children and young people, this just seems to be a modern version of that, albeit a much more realistic version, so you may be wondering, “how do I teach my child what is real and what isn’t or virtual?”.

It all comes down to critical thinking, the same logic we apply into any area of our lives; we ask ourselves simple questions, such as:

  • What is the purpose of this image/video?
  • What are they trying to do, or influence me with?
  • Why are they talking about this product?

YouTube can be an amazing platform for children and the newer version of YouTube Kids (for children 12 and under) gives parents much more granular control over what children are seeing, but we can’t take our eye off the ball as there is always the potential for something unsavoury, whether that is inappropriate content or people (real or virtual) trying to influence the children to say, do or buy something. Be pro-active with your children:

  • Watch a few of their favourite channels with them and discuss why they favour those channels. Talk to them about critical thinking 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 may be 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; that they won’t be judged or have their device removed from them.

As a parent I am all too aware of how fascinated children are by influencers online. 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 (often involving egg reveals or eating sweets) and I get troubled when influencers are overly materialistic, showing off flash 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!

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