Help Teen As Social Media Influencer

What should a parent know about a teen who strives to be a Social Media Influencer?

A graphic from Shutterstock of a magnet reaching out from a phone drawing in likes - in other words, what social media does.
“influencer fatigue” ??

Dear Ms. Smartphone: What to do with a son who wants to rise up as a social media influencer?  He and his friends have played videogames for years but now they record the action so that they can post online and get other people to watch them.  I don’t know much about screen games, but he points out that there are daunting tasks in each game and equally daunting obstacles, like ‘monsters’, ‘imposters’ , and ‘mazes.’ After he posts these on You Tube, he plans to makes videos about school and daily life. He says there is a lot of tie-in between games and handling real life obstacles. It sounds creative, and I’m not opposed. I just don’t understand what it means to help a teen as as social media influencer and what the attraction is.  Melanie, Novato

Dear Melanie: You didn’t say how old your son is, but I am guessing he is in high-school. Things are different if you have a child say under age 13 who wants to be an influencer on YouTube or a similar platform. In this case, parents are accomplices that turn toddlers and pre-teens on to social media.  Seldom does a young kid’s sheer talent randomly rise-to-the-top. 

With older children, like your son, we need to realize that this is the world they live in. I would just make sure that he doesn’t expect to make his future livelihood as a social media influencer. While some kids will become celebrities online, the majority will not. It’s a bit like the old sports scholarships: did you know that fewer than 2 percent of high school student-athletes are offered athletic scholarships, and often not a full ride. There are a lot of kids vying to do the same thing, in fact, one poll says 86% of those ages 13 to 38. When it comes to social media the competition is global, not just here in North America. 

New Fads, New Ads

For those of us who grew up with newspapers and TVs, influencers are hard to comprehend. Isn’t influencing the role of an advertisement?  But today, when there is so much space or air-time to fill, social media is a formidable contender.  

Traditionally, you might have gotten a product recommendation from a personal friend or family member. And, over time you learned to find integrity in certain brands, say Toyota or Proctor and Gamble. A recent book by Tim Wu called The Attention Merchants may help you see how the rules have changed. An influencer creates content, and content becomes the magnet to get attention (eyeballs) and establish credibility. Ultimately, credibility is what matters. It moves an audience to take action, say to buy something or sign up.

Fad, Ads, Comrades

Young people, like your son, are watching less TV and reading less in print, so companies are following them to social media. And teens producing content for social media can become corporate influencers if they gain a wide audience, so there it is, distilled in a nutshell. Influencers come in all shapes and sizes. A new book called The Influencer Code identifies four types:  celebrities, authority, affinity, and expertise. I’m not sure which one your game-playing son is vying to be, but for yours truly, Dear Smartphone, it’ about authority and expertise. At least I think so: full discloure- I learned of this book from an IG recommendation!

There is an element of gamesmanship, and while I doubt that your son is going to win a million dollars, I am intrigued by a brand new promotion that Snapchat is running until the end of 2020. They want to keep kids glued to Snapchat instead of TikTok or Instagram. So, every day they will award ” a share” of one million dollars for exclusive content that meets their standards and goes viral. 

Here is the interesting part: When users post videos on Snapchat, they must obscure their profiles (ie. Identity). Thus, a post from someone with millions of followers faces will face the same hurdles as a first time video from a new user, like your son,  in reaching higher tiers of viral fame. The intention is that with anonymity, new influencers will emerge. Pure speculation, but is Snapchat keen to do this to overcome what Chinese consumers (see graphic), experience as influencer fatigue?

Influencing Careers too…

That said, you might look over your teen’s shoulder more, and help him and his/ friends channel their work on social media into longer term career moves. One direction is to understand the code that makes the website work, and dive deeper into learning how to program, or at least make better websites with CSS and HTML.  And, he will surely learn more about video and editing, camera angles, and lighting. Finally, being a would-be influencer in high school might be a fine way to prepare for a future career in ad-sales and marketing. What makes a product successful and what drives people to want it? All the stuff of business 101.

Cheating Online Exam by Teen

Teen using phone to cheat on test..Mom wonders what to do next.

This is an image of a cellphone with a cymath equation posted on it.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Cheating on an online exam? I walked into my daughter’s room when she was supposed to be taking a math test in Algebra II. She had her computer open but on her lap, sort of under the table, was her smartphone with notes. I’ve since learned (from other Moms) that kids go to a site called Cymath to get the solutions. She is a sophomore and needs to do well in this class to get into college, so I am torn whether to say something to her teacher. BTW, what makes it worse is that she goes to a religious high school associated with our synagogue. Roslyn, Encino

Dear Roslyn: First, realize that this is a small transgression in the schema of bad. You and your daughter are not going to go to jail like Loughlin Lough or Felicity Huffman, who schemed their way into your nearby school, University of Southern California.

So, begin with an open conversation. Tell your daughter what you saw but ask if you have the details straight. Have her explain what took place from her perspective. Did the teacher say it was an open book test, did her friends goad her to try it, or does she swear she never looked at notes or Cymath? Based on what I’ve read, I’m equally concerned about software that can surveil students when they take a remote exam and report false positives about cheating behaviors. You could insist that next time your daughter take an exams it’s in open seating so you can monitor (the opposite of ‘Go to your Room Now’ as punishment). However, that is not enough.

It’s Academic

Instead, try to explore the pressures that lead your daughter to this poor decision. Make sure that she gets academic help and gains the confidence she needs to do well in this subject material. Yes, you might need to ask her teacher for help, enroll her in an outside on-line math program, or seek out a tutor, if you can afford it. Or, do all of the above. You must show your daughter that her integrity, hard-work, and good conduct are what matter.

I am cutting your daughter some slack because I wonder if we all take online short-cuts during this time of Covid.  There are adults who sit in their pajama bottoms, teens who are flipping screens and playing a computer game or two, and Zoom meetings where we turn off video so we can be virtually present, but are ‘not.’ In this instance cheating will not get your daughter expelled, but it is a signal that something is amiss and you, as a parent, must look in the window to make adjustments.

If not, she may get into college in two years because she has gotten good enough math grades, but then lack the foundation and skills that are necessary to keep up there and succeed. Kids, exams, and cheating are not a particularly new problem. However, the smartphone adds complexity to the equation (no pun intended) if our students slip through the cracks without learning the material but still give the right answers.

Should Kids Use Phone on Break?

Learning pods are supposed to replace socialization and school….is the phone adding distance?

Young children studying in a pod  like classroom during Covid virus. At each desk there is  computer and desks are 6' apart.
Daily Herald, photo by John Starks 8/25/2020

Dear Ms Smartphone: Should kids use their phones during a break? This fall my daughter is in a learning pod with seven other middle-school students. It seems to be going well, and I think that she will be prepared for high school next year. The issue I have is that the instructors allow the pod kids to take out their phones during the breaks between classes. There are multiple breaks during the shortened school day. In our normal school, the kids cannot use their phone until the end of the day. Do you think I should say anything?  Sharin, Berkeley

Dear Sharin: These are interesting times and I am glad that you were able to locate an instructional pod for your student. For pods, the equity issues have been substantial, along with access to technology and the Internet. You raise yet another important issue about these makeshift classrooms.

If the students use computers for most of their lessons, I would argue that they need a break from the screen. It is important that they refresh their eyes, refresh their minds, and seek out personal interactions, at a six foot distance, of course.  Taking a short stroll or engaging in some physical exercise would be a great alternative to spending more time with online games or search. 

WhAt is the Attraction?

Second, you need to question what students do online, the online sites they visit, between classes. Since they are in seventh or eighth grade, question whether they are spending time on social media like Tik-Tok or SnapChat. You might look at your daughter’s posts, if you have access. Looking over her “digital shoulder” and getting access is vital at this age. But, it begins with a collaborative discussion and her perspective on her podmates, free-time, and how the pod functions during breaks. 

According to Pew Research 33% of teens note that it is simply easier to connect with a friend online than to attempt connecting with them physically. There are two instructional things that parents must do: one is to show kids how to disconnect in order to connect, and second, we need to teach the tools of digital literacy. Is this pod facilitating either?

Speak Up!

So, you might take this up directly with the lead instructor- ask for some time “after class” to discuss media use. You mentioned that there was more than one instructor, so they might have inconsistent enforcement or rules. Most likely you and the other parents that hired these teachers first agreed on the curriculum.  So, also reach out to the other parents in your pod. And, hopefully you will all be back in your regular classroom soon.