It’s no secret that children can be highly profitable stars. Since the heyday of Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen, children stars have been raking in more than most people (and, often more than their parents). But YouTube opens up entirely new doorways in terms of children’s careers… and the ethics thereof.
Is this path of financial success sustainable? Some people go as far as to ask whether it should be available in the first place. After all, the psychological damage children have faced in traditional media has been well-documented, so why should having a YouTube channel be any different? Let’s explore.
The Highest Earning YouTube Star is 8
Ryan Kaji runs “Ryan’s Toy Review,” a $22 million a year enterprise. He’s also just eight years old. He’s not the only one. While adults have struggled to make a name for themselves on YouTube, children have actually found it quite easy. The answer is in the audience.
Children like to watch other children, and children are some of the most active users on YouTube. Children will watch YouTube for eight hours a day, and all that YouTube watching generates advertising revenue.
But it’s more insidious than that. Sponsors are also interested in advertising to children, and because of that, they are more likely to support channels that are targeted towards children. Therefore, channels targeted towards children (and likely by children) are actually getting higher ad rates.
The Darker Side of YouTube Stardom
All of this raises an important question: Can a child consent to becoming a star? While many of these children are more than happy to participate, they also can’t control their own money, and they have no way of knowing what the consequences could be in the future.
In the entertainment industry, massive protections have been placed over how many hours children can work, and what type of work they can do. No such laws exist on YouTube. Children may be pressured into YouTube stardom only to find all their money gone by the time they hit 18.
In 2017, a couple was arrested after their YouTube channel revealed them repeatedly playing harsh and malicious pranks on their children. When children become commodities, these things can happen.
YouTube’s Child Protection
There’s another level to this: Advertising to children opens up some difficult doorways. YouTube has been trying to counter this after the “Elsa-gate” debacle, in which strange, disturbing videos were being targeted to children who would just keep watching them.
These videos were huge money makers because they targeted things that children were interested in, such as dentistry and pregnancy. These are obscure topics, but they could be mined, because they’re things that are particularly frightening to kids.
Thus the question is raised regarding whether children should be used to sell things to other children, and how content providers can make this an ethical business.
Not All Dark: YouTube May Be a Real Career for the Future
Going back to an eight-year-old’s toy channel, there isn’t a lot to be upset about. Marketing has always targeted children as a way to get to their parents, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing that children are given a platform where they can begin to make money and hone skills. After all, imagine if your child could turn 18 with $200 million banked for their future.
There are dozens of top YouTube channels run by children who are just particularly excited and invested in specific topics. Children now list “YouTube star” among their most desired careers, and parents are going to need to field questions from their own children regarding becoming a YouTube star, and the consequences that it could have for their future and privacy.
YouTube is a multi-billion dollar industry, and there are many incredible self-made YouTube millionaires. From Facebook Live to Tiktok, children are now exposed to a lot of ways that they can advertise themselves and advertise for others. In the coming years, we are likely to see even more child personalities emerging on the Internet, and some are going to be coerced by their parents, and some aren’t.
For parents wondering if it’s an ethical career for their child, it really depends on the parent. Channels like Ryan’s remain wholesome and heartening because the child is genuinely interested and because the child is the driving force behind the channel. But parents need to ask themselves, “If my child wanted to quit the channel, would I let them?” If the answer is no, they may need to reevaluate.