Why ‘kidfluencers’ need to focus on their mental health

Workshops to understand how to manage time and privacy while using social media have become common. Photo: iSTOCKPHOTO
Workshops to understand how to manage time and privacy while using social media have become common. Photo: iSTOCKPHOTO


With children of all age groups spending a considerable amount of time online, not just as consumers of content but also as creators, how does one gauge how much is too much?

Thirteen-year-old M.K. has been watching the online channel, Ryan’s World, ever since he was 6. Run by Ryan Kaji, 12, and his parents, the channel—with its unboxing of toys, easy science experiments, and daily slice-of–life vlogs—has nearly 36 million subscribers from around the world. M.K. is one of them. As he has matured, the Delhi-based student’s likes have shifted from unboxing of giant Easter eggs to DIY experiments.

During the covid-19 pandemic, with time at hand, he decided to try content creation as well. Borrowing his mother’s phone, he created short videos using the widely available DIY STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) kits. Once his parents—both doctors—approved his videos as they were based on educational material, he began to share these with his friends. Buoyed by the appreciation, M.K. wondered if he should start his own channel. Apprehensive about digital safety, his mother suggested a private page on social media, where she could monitor the followers being added. So, in 2022, M.K. started a private page, linked to his mother’s account, dedicated to his experiments at home.

As his friends as well as his parents’ friends praised his content, M.K. hankered to put out more videos. His mother would find him awake late at night looking up experiments to replicate at home. Last year, he started asking for equipment—a DSLR camera, microphone and more—to enhance the quality of his videos. “I had thought of this as a home project—something that kept him constructively busy. However, it was turning out to be a preoccupation, which was distracting him. Some of the equipment he wanted was expensive, and when we refused to buy it, he got irritated," says his mother, R.K., 42, a gynaecologist. The family has spent considerable time in the past six months counselling M.K., while also enrolling him for outdoor activities such as football and swimming.

M.K. is not alone in exhibiting signs of irritability that come with spending too much time on online content—be it as passive consumers or as creators. “If I see 10-12 clients in a day, seven to eight are young digital content creators exhibiting this aggression," says Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma, professor of clinical psychology, SHUT clinic (service for healthy use of technology), NIMHANS, Bengaluru. While this kind of behaviour is exhibited in the case of extreme addiction, parents should keep a lookout for signs of irritation and anger at being denied access to equipment, or the opportunity to update the channel or page started by the child.

Also read: How to unpack anger

With children of all age groups spending a considerable amount of time online, how does one gauge how much is too much? The answer to this might vary from child to child. One needs to keep a tab on whether children are getting adequate sleep, are focused on academics and have a healthy social life. “However, there is something known as the cognitive error of minimisation. Once kids feel that there is minimal impact on their daily lives, they don’t foresee the need for a change in their engagement with digital media or with content creation," explains Sharma.

Slowly, they start becoming aggressive and demanding. However, since their daily schedule is going well, they don’t realise the impact on themselves or on their family members. The solution to this lies in keeping lines of non-judgemental communication open within the family. Parents or caregivers ought to be aware of what content the child is putting up, and at what time. “When the communication is collaborative, it becomes easier for parents to guide kids," says Sharma.

Children need to understand the difference between good content and viral content. Photo: iSTOCKPHOTO
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Children need to understand the difference between good content and viral content. Photo: iSTOCKPHOTO

Today, one can find workshops on ways to create content while keeping digital safety in mind. There are modules on time management and ways to maintain your privacy while experimenting with the digital medium.

Khushnaaz Noras, a Mumbai-based consulting psychologist, feels there needs to be mentorship even on mental health for content creators. To the teens who come to her for guidance, she suggests a simple thing: Learn the difference between good content and viral content.

“Good content could be something that gets 50 views and 10 likes but ranks high on quality and value. On the other hand, something that goes viral could just be someone staring at a camera, with a famous quote written on top, and it could reach one million people. Likes are not proportionate to quality," she elaborates. Even if one person has benefitted from what has been uploaded, that is good content.

It always helps if parents draw from personal experiences to guide children. For instance, they could share instances from their childhood, when social media was not omnipresent, and articles and artwork would be submitted to school magazines, comic books and newspapers. Once they were published, one didn’t have to worry about how many people viewed them—self worth was not linked to the number of views and likes.

Parents also need to ask themselves if their child being a content creator is an ego booster for them. “Are adults making a big deal out of it by boasting in groups that their kid’s video has got thousands of views? Remember, when one video reaches thousands, and the next one only hundreds, your child will feel a low sense of worth. Nine to 10-year-olds don’t need this kind of feedback in life," says Noras. “Every child has to understand that not everything has to be displayed on social media, and parents play a huge role in helping understand that."

A pertinent conversation which families must have is on exit strategies, even before the child starts putting out content. “We need to assure them that they will be fully supported in the decision to shut down the channel or page, whenever they want," says Noras. Children feel secure in the knowledge there is an exit strategy in place, and in constant reiteration of the fact that the real world is independent of the virtual world. No one will remember you by the likes and views that you get in real life.

The harsh reality is that being on digital platforms often means leaving oneself open to cyber bullying and trolling. A poignant case in this context is that of Pranshu, a 16-year-old queer self-taught make-up artist from Ujjain, who lost their life by suicide in November 2023 due to a barrage of hateful homophobic comments.

Children can learn about keeping their mental safety intact as they go along even if it means disabling the comments section. In a lot of cases, since the pages and accounts are managed by parents, children never get access to public feedback. Another option is keeping channels and pages private, with their accounts dependent on their parents, who will get constant updates about security breaches, comments and more.

“Tell the kids that if the video becomes anything apart from what you are showing—say, you are putting out something related to art—and people, both public and peers, shame you for the equipment that you use, the way you look or the backgrounds that you use, shut comments completely, and shut your mind," suggests Noras. “Don’t be shy of blocking, deleting if anyone is making life difficult."

Also read: More and more Indians are encountering deepfake content: Survey

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