Since they were old enough to turn on a computer, click a mouse and surf the web, our kids have been obsessed with YouTube.
Our now-teens spent their elementary school years proudly professing, “I’m going to be a YouTuber when I grow up.” Not much has changed. They don’t watch TV, and have waning interests in Netflix and other streaming platforms. They’re laser-focused on their favorite YouTube/Twitch stars. These are the people they admire. These are the jobs they want. For our little Gen Z children, creating content for YouTube is the dream job.
Fast forward a few years, and it’s happening again. Sadie and Ozzie (10- and 8-years-old, respectively) have the same YouTube dreams.
In the past, our kids were too busy with other activities to advance their YouTube domination goals. But now, in the times of COVID-19, they want to take a shot turning those dreams into reality — while giving Mom and Dad a few nightmares on the way (Oh, and a handful of Amazon Prime purchases necessary to turn a corner of our dining room into a budget-friendly YouTube studio.).
Online schooling, limited access to friends, winter weather woes and constant contact with screens have heightened their desire to be YouTube stars.They talk about their plans all the time. It dominates dinner conversations. They think about what they’d name their new YouTube channels. They plan silly things to record to entertain viewers (Mom and Dad are adamant that they plan out their content strategies; after all, content is king.). They create schemes to reach the coveted “1 million subs” mark.
Our little angels are talking like entrepreneurs.
In case you’re not hip to the lingo, a “sub” is a subscriber. YouTubers are good at asking their viewers, “Hey, if you like what you’re watching, will you please hit the subscribe button?” Over the years, we’ve lamented being subscribed to some really awful YouTube channels. Because we try to be good parents and monitor our children’s online accounts, all these subs end up filling our notifications and inboxes
There have been times, as parents, we’ve dismissed these aspirations as fantasy. I mean, if we’re being honest, YouTuber was never on our “successful career” bingo card in high school career-ready class. We were encouraged to check out nice, safe careers like accountants or astronauts. For us, it was natural to think that being a YouTuber does not equate to gainful employment.
Plus, last we checked, you can’t major in YouTube.
Still, we know that having a job you love is really great for a good quality of life. And we know they love YouTube. With that in mind, we decided that this is yet another pandemic opportunity for the Earnheardts. It’s the best time to lean in as parents and encourage their aspirations.
Like many kids, ours are creative. Sure, they want to replicate the success they see in other YouTubers, but they want to do it on their terms, with their own content. They want to entertain viewers, but with their own unique, creative, Earnheardt kid flare.
To be fair, this is not the first time our kids have forayed into building their own YouTube channels. Their first attempt was a channel entitled “Team EKSO.” Clever, right? EKSO? Those are their first name initials. It’s a mnemonic device that helps us make sure we’re not forgetting anyone.
But Team EKSO was a group channel for all the kids to share. The videos were not well-produced, not high-quality, and not up to their current, Earnheardt-kid standards. In fact, they cringe a bit when we go back and rewatch old Team EKSO channel videos. Katie recently marked a bunch of her uploads as private so you can’t even see them on the channel.
The other content is there. The Team EKSO channel is still live on YouTube for now, but without much promise for new content from the “team.”
As the older girls venture into this new pursuit, they want to break up the band and become solo artists. It’s not that there are creative differences per se. It’s just that, like many kids, they want to develop their own identities. Ella and Katie want to create brands that are different from their siblings.
So, of course, our children have solicited the help of their band managers (or are we producers?) to get their own YouTube channel up and running. So, even if we’re breaking up the band, we decided to make this a family project.
Plus, it’s another great way (and excuse) to pass pandemic time.
Last week, Adam spent the better part of the day cleaning the little corner in our dining room where the first-ever YouTube production studio will be housed. Katie and Ella initially suggested we set it up in the basement so they would have privacy, but we told them that they can build their own custom studio when the money starts to roll in.
I wouldn’t say the Earnheardts are all-in on YouTube, but we are willing to help our children turn this pandemic into an opportunity to be creative and learn some important business acumen.
The slogan of YouTube is “Broadcast Yourself” and with a lot of folks trapped at home looking for fresh online content, now may just be the perfect time for our kids to take steps to make their dreams for YouTube glory come true.
— Mary Beth Earnheardt is a professor in the Anderson Program in Journalism at Youngstown State University where she advises student media. You can follow her on Twitter at @mbexoxo. Adam is professor of communication at YSU and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists executive board. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn