How influencer culture affects young people online

What is influencer culture and how might it impact children online? Experts Sajda Mughal OBE, Julia von Weiler and Will Gardner explain what the culture around influencers is and how it can impact children, along with what parents can do to help keep their children from buying into it.

Sajda Mughal OBE

CEO of JAN Trust, Campaigner and Consultant
Expert Website

The term ‘influencer culture’ is used to describe the new phenomenon of celebrities who use their fame to promote particular products, i.e. ‘influence’ their audience, for money. These figures may have gained fame through social media itself or through the traditional avenues.

It is important to be aware of influencer culture as it can be an excellent way to find out about new things, but it can also be dangerous for those who do not realise that the online world is heavily edited — influencers rarely actually lead the lives they put out for the world they see and, when they do, it’s often not a healthy life to lead. This is especially dangerous for young people and children, who are more susceptible to pressure and likely to constantly compare themselves with the people they see on social media.

Influencer culture is a very superficial and artificial world, and it is important that we all remain aware of this. We must refrain from both comparing ourselves with other people at the cost of our own wellbeing and automatically assuming that an influencer post is authentic or trustworthy, and we must teach our young children to uphold these practises.

Julia von Weiler

Psychologist & Executive Director
Expert Website

What can parents do to make sure their child understands influencer culture and doesn’t fall for it?

The concept of marketing strategy and advertising is already very difficult for adults to recognise. A part of influencer culture is influencers making you feel like they are taking you into their lives so you feel close to them, even though they are simply doing their job and selling products with their posts.

The younger children are, the less they can (and should have to) understand this concept. It is the job of the parents and other trusted adults in their lives to protect them. In this case, it means saying “no” over and over again when they want to buy their favourite influencer’s product.

As they get older, maybe from Year 5, we can start talking to them about influence and advertising. It is certainly also important to admit that we adults fall for this kind of thing all the time too. It is certainly good to look together with the children and to classify it again and again. Even if we probably get on their nerves, something will stick.

It is also important to know who they are following and who the influencers are so that you know what you are talking about. This is definitely an ongoing task that requires a lot of patience.

Good patience and success! You can do it!

Will Gardner

Director, UK Safer Internet Centre, coordinators of Safer Internet Day and CEO, Childnet
Expert Website

Here are 5 top tips from the Childnet Education Team to help children and young people, and parents and carers understand influencer culture.

  • An influencer often gets paid to promote content, either with money or with free items. Influencers have a responsibility to label any posts of a commercial nature, usually with the hashtag ‘#ad,’ so that followers know how to separate advertising and endorsements from personal content.
  • Regardless of their number of followers or if they have a verified account, it’s still important to critically assess the messaging or content an influencer promotes. Influencers have their own opinions and beliefs, and these may not align with your values.
  • Many images that you encounter on social media have been heavily edited or filtered. Remember this when you are looking at influencer (or any!) content online. A lot of work can go into making just one photo seem ‘perfect,’ and the original might have looked quite different.
  • It is human nature to compare yourself with others. If you find that using social media is affecting your mental health or making you feel bad about yourself, then taking a break could help. Unfollow or mute any accounts that are affecting your wellbeing, and always let someone know how you are feeling.
  • Embrace the positives! Lots of influencers use their platform for good, and it can be a great way to explore new ideas, lifestyles or learn about different cultures. Choose to follow and share accounts that make you feel good, and those that aim to spread positive messages online