Remember those heady childhood days of the 80s and 90s? When a group of grubby adolescents yelled at us to “Switch Off Our Television Sets And Do Something Less Boring Instead”? Or when Philip Schofield had Gordon the Gopher as an assistant presenter instead of Holly Willoughby? It’s difficult to forget when Ant and Dec were the heroes of our Saturday mornings not our Saturday nights and everyone wanted their pictures to be included in Tony Hart’s gallery.
If your children have passed the CBeebies stage you’d be hard pressed to identify a TV star that sums up their generation. In our household it is a more home-grown type of celebrity that is making its mark on a very different kind of childhood. All hail the rise of the YouTuber. Stampy. Chris MD. Dan TDM. Spencer FC. These are the people weaving their way into our family life.
Given the firm impression these YouTubers have been making, it was only a matter of time before Toby wanted to imitate them with his own channel. A devoted gamer, he’s been picking up tricks of the trade from these guys since a stupidly young age and wants to now share his knowledge with an audience. The benefits and the risks of the internet age is that we can all be publishers now – even a seven-year-old boy with dreams.
I’ve been reticent. The recommended minimum age for the holder of a YouTube account is 18 but 13 with a parent’s permission. And quite right too. Plenty about social media is psychologically unhealthy for young people and the longer we can keep that at bay the better. Our constant desire for regular affirmation through receiving likes and comments on a range of social media channels produces a self-defeating loop of neediness. I want to teach my child to build his self-esteem from within
So why have I relented, and helped my son create his own YouTube channel at the ripe old age of 7 and a very important half?
I want him to follow his dreams not mine
So I wouldn’t choose gaming or YouTube watching as hobbies for Toby but despite my best attempts to divert him towards books or art or music, he has. School, while mostly a positive environment for him, is full of subtle pressures: to keep up with peers academically or teachers’ expectations while doing joyless numeracy and literacy exercises, and the fear of failure regularly looms large. But gaming is a passion he’s discovered for himself, and he’s good at it, so that makes him feel good about himself. When you’re seven and it can feel that the world is trying to mould and shape you into something you can’t or don’t want to be then having the freedom to explore your own identity and interests is important for building confidence and self-esteem. This is one part of his life where he feels he is in control and can thrive, so who am I to stand in his way?
I’m confident I can keep him safe and secure
I’m not a total luddite, so Toby’s channel is very much linked to my email address, so if anyone comments I’ll see it first. Not that I expect comments to flood in. I know how hard it is to build an audience on social media and so far we’ve racked up five views for his three videos, which are probably us. I think he’s fairly safe from unnecessary exposure to the world. Plus, my view is to address risk rather than avoid it, and that applies to all potential danger. Surely if you teach your kids how to be safe in any situation it’s going to be a far more effective strategy than avoiding danger altogether.
It’s something we can do together
Setting up his YouTube channel was a project we did together. He took full charge of designing his logo and channel artwork but I was on hand to help with any fiddly bits or editing. He steered the ship but I helped him make his vision become a reality, and will be a useful asset when it comes to any filming. Also, I reckon that if I’m involved in his social media activity early on, it will help to prepare him safely for that inevitable time in the future when he’s using it independently.
It helps him develop skills and confidence
Like most kids, Toby can navigate the digital world effortlessly. However, he has also been able to develop his creative side by designing his logo and coming up with his channel name. The best part about it is watching how comfortable he is talking on camera and how he can watch himself back without cringing. Here’s a boy who is comfortable in his own skin and can talk with ease about pretty much anything. Although it’s far too early to prepare him from the workplace, the better you are at communicating, the better your chances in life.
It doesn’t stop him getting active outdoors
Contrary to popular opinion a kid who’s into gaming, isn’t necessarily glued to an Xbox 24-7 (ok, so maybe that one time). Sometimes we like to hang about at home. Sometimes we like to go and explore in parks, forests and beaches. Quite often we kick a ball about or go swimming. A gaming hobby does not preclude that active adventure that we all know is good for kids. I’ve been quite liberal with screen time, while pointing out that it’s not healthy to sit in front of screen for hours on end, and as a result Toby is not bad at self-regulating, most of the time. It can be as hard to drag him off the football pitch as it is to pull him away from YouTube. We make time for it all.
It makes him happy
Ok, so the biggest parenting lie is that we just want our kids to be happy. Well we do, but not if it means allowing them to indulge in things that are not good for them, like eating 10 bars of chocolate in a row just because it makes them happy. However, it’s really difficult to deny pleasure if on balance it doesn’t do too much harm. I love hearing Toby chuckle when watching his favourite YouTubers. Here is a world of goofy humour and silly pranks that I don’t quite understand but that a seven-year-old feels perfectly at home in. To be able to create his own videos, just like his idols, is a dream come true.
The most surprising thing about parenting is that you surprise yourself with the decisions you sometimes make. Before your child comes along you can have fixed ideas about what you will and won’t do but then their little personalities emerge and they can sometimes put up one heck of a fight. I try to listen and review my ideas because as much as it pains me at times, I want to value my child’s opinions, so that’s why I have no regrets about helping him set up a YouTube channel. It’s highly likely to be a passing fad anyway!