Dr Annabel Chan, Clinical Psychologist
The new year has begun, and already an incident of bad behaviour has gone viral, inspiring public fury and a trial-by-media for the YouTube star Logan Paul. In a video posted on New Year's Eve, Logan Paul and his friends go camping in Aokigahara, unfortunately known as the "Japanese suicide forest", and film themselves discussing and laughing at a deceased person they find.
Condemnation was swift and widespread, and Logan Paul had since taken the video down and issued an apology. In doing so, he joins a long list of popular online celebrities that are watched by millions of young people, but only break through to adults when their behaviour generates criticism and outrage.
Less than a year before Logan Paul's Japanese outing, Swedish video game vlogger PewDiePie arranged to have "two semi-naked Indian men dancing while holding a banner reading ‘Death to all Jews’” appear on his YouTube channel, which has 59 million individual subscribers and over 4 billion views. Public response was similar, and PewDiePie has returned to vlogging without further problems.
Logan Paul himself is following the footsteps of his older brother Jake, who has attracted criticism for posting sexually explicit content and activities including breaching security at the White House in Washington.
Meanwhile, machine-generated cartoons depicting popular children's characters in violent and sexual predicaments are spreading rapidly, causing regular outbreaks of parental alarm and media attention.
So, let's take a look at what can we do to help children and young people use video media safely, socially, and critically.
As always, the first thing is:
When a controversial video goes viral, it's easy to get swept up in the reactions of others and simply join the shouting, giving the loudest voices the biggest say for fear of missing out, being left behind, or judged for not reacting. In the case of Logan Paul, some parents are broadcasting their disapproval of the video on social media and, more deliberately, announcing what they're doing to protect their children.
While discussions of these issues is important, some of this is virtue signalling - defined in the Oxford Dictionary as "the conspicuous expression of moral values done primarily with the intent of enhancing standing within a social group". The Cambridge Dictionary further explains it as “the popular modern habit of indicating that one has virtue merely by expressing disgust or favour for certain political ideas or cultural happenings”.
Social media platforms allow for fast and easy virtue signalling. By publicly denouncing Logan Paul, banning children from YouTube, or declaring they will monitor their child’s every mouse click, these parents signal superiority over other parents and create competition and pressure to follow suit. It can be tempting and simply easier to just go with the majority voice and follow whatever other parents are doing.
What works for one family or child or parent may not work for another. Children’s' attitudes may change with age, environment, or peers. There is no one-size-fits-all parenting response, because each child is a unique individual, so…
DON’T PRESUME YOUR CHILD’S REACTIONS
If your child has watched Logan Paul’s videos or subscribed to his channel, it doesn't automatically mean they agree with everything Logan Paul posts, or that they are even a fan. Anyone who has watched The Bachelor and enjoyed it knows that we can be entertained by content that goes against our values and morals. Psychoanalysts call these “ego-dystonic behaviours”.
"Ego-dystonic" refers to thoughts and behaviours that conflict with a person’s ideal self-image. These are impulses or acts that we carry through even though we dislike them and don't want to be associated with them. Some children may find Logan Paul’s videos distressing, offensive, or discomforting, but watch them anyway due to peer pressure, fear of missing out, or morbid curiosity.
"Ego-syntonic" is the opposite. These are behaviours and feelings that are in harmony with our identity and ideals. These children may enthusiastically watch Logan Paul’s more outrageous videos in support of their idol (Logan's fans call themselves the "Logang"), may find them genuinely entertaining, revel in schadenfreude (deriving pleasure from another person’s misfortune), watch to see what the fuss is about, or simply can't see anything wrong with the content.
Even if that seems unsettling or unfair….
DON’T TELL YOUR CHILD HOW TO FEEL
Children are not clones or extensions of their parents. They have their own thoughts, feelings, values and motivations. No matter what you think of Logan Paul, it is important to remember that this isn't about the parents.
Every adult has been a child, and we all know a sure-fire way to ensure rebellion is by telling a young person what to do “because I say so”. If a child doesn't understand the reason for a rule or value, they are much less likely to stick with it. What really matters is finding out and understanding how your child feels about Logan Paul, and definitely…
DON’T PUNISH YOUR CHILD
Logan Paul made a mistake and is being judged in public, not your child. Banning children from an entire social media platform because someone else misused it is counterproductive and punitive. Additionally, children who are banned from something popular online are likely to simply access it through schools and friends instead, with no parental guidance or support.
It's very easy to get wrapped up in fears of harmful media leading children astray, but…
DON’T ASSUME ALL YOUTUBERS ARE BAD FOR YOUR CHILD
Graphic from Juvenoia: Kids These Days
For people born last century, it can seem ludicrous that a young person with a camera can become a famous millionaire just by making silly or mundane videos of themselves and posting them online. It can also be confronting to feel disconnected from a younger generation that enjoys these performers and their content, on a new medium that transcends television or radio.
Consciously or not, most parents expect, or at least hope, that their children will share their worldview, opinions, and values. For that reason, it can seem like a natural, knee-jerk reaction to ignore, dismiss, or remove something that a child values but a parent doesn’t. So, if your child expresses an interest in something that you dislike or find pointless, fight that urge.
Popular YouTubers are peer leaders and role models in the world of social media. Research has consistently shown that children from the age of 8 derive more pleasure from peer relationships than family relationships, and are more easily influenced by friends than by authority figures. This is an important stage of a child's development, as the capacity to develop social bonds outside their family predicts higher rates of overall general functioning and social successes.
However, this may mean your child is more likely to admire and listen to the advice of YouTubers than anything offered by their parents or other adults. That can be confronting, but isn't always a bad thing. YouTubers are often creative, productive, and pro-social leaders of change and awareness campaigns. Many are relatable and worthy role-models who are candid with their fans and offer valuable advice on their experience with difficult topics such as mental health and chronic illness.
For example, the Draw My Life trend has been cathartic for many people, giving young people an accessible way to understand the lives, struggles, and strength of many others around the world. Other trends are just plain fun!
Creating online media content is also a real job, a passion and a legitimate career in a booming industry that could and should be an option for any child today.
But there's still bad content on YouTube that my children are exposed to! What now?
5 Things To Do
The evolution of communication continues online and faster than ever. As the first generation to grow up with online communication as their standard, today’s children have been called “internet natives’. They pass text messages instead of notes, send emails instead of letters, and spend much of their social time in cyberspace. Their favourite entertainers may be on YouTube, not television, and instead of barracking for a football team, they may be keen members of online fandoms (or both!).
Some adults may not feel so comfortable in cyberspace, however. Even parents who use Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter may not feel as excited by online activity as children who never knew the world before social media and streaming video. This technological “generation gap” can create tensions at home, when well-meaning parents attempt to place limits on internet use without fully understanding what it means to their child - essentially grounding them from the cyber playground.
For parents in that situation, it can help to know that behind the weird culture and complex technology of the internet is something old and simple – people communicating, connecting, and forming communities.
Regardless of how someone feels about social media, it is here to stay. It is also important to acknowledge that online relationships are REAL relationships, with scope, depth and feeling. Online media allow people to connect, collaborate, commiserate, and celebrate, and have created global citizens able to share ideas and thoughts instantaneously around the world.
Perhaps most importantly, the internet provides social and intellectual access for people who struggle to fit into their local community, whether that’s due to disability, isolation, or just being a wonderfully weird and atypical human.
Social media is not the enemy.
Most people use the internet respectfully and with good intentions, but some individuals use the mask of anonymity online to victimise others. Common terms for this are “cyber harassment”, “online interpersonal harm” or “internet-related harm”, and can take many forms, such as:
Cyberbullying - using power in a relationship to repeat online behaviour that causes physical and/or psychological harm; this can also take the form of peer pressure in group chats and social media, where peers make someone change their behaviour or do something they don’t really want to do
Unwanted contact - cyberstalking (repeated unwanted contact via online media) and online threats (directly or indirectly making someone afraid for their safety or wellbeing)
Harassment - trolling (being deliberately provocative to make someone angry or distressed), doxxing (releasing private information about someone to make them easier to target), swatting (calling in fake emergencies at someone’s address, causing emergency services and police to attend)
Identity harm- gaslighting (denying someone’s identity or experience to cause them doubt and uncertainty) and catfishing (pretending to be someone very different online, often to gain attention or trust)
Sexual harm - grooming (cultivating a close relationship with someone, usually young and/or vulnerable, with the goal of taking advantage of them), threats of sexual assault, revenge porn, asking for and publishing real or fake pornographic images, and other sexually-offensive behaviour
Unfortunately, this can be the worst option.
Despite some risks, the internet is where many children and teens explore their social lives and make the human connections necessary to healthy emotional growth. Banning a child for being harmed would be like ordering them to stay away from the playground and isolate themselves from friends because they have been bullied.
Study after study has shown that prohibiting teens from using social network sites pushes them to maintain secret accounts. A child who gets punished for disclosing their social media troubles will be reluctant to discuss their online activity with adults, possibly with disastrous results: kids interacting online without the benefit of parental guidance.
Let’s look at some research:
According to the McAfee Digital Deception Study 2013: Exploring the Online Disconnect between Parents & Pre-teens, Teens and Young Adults, most parents shy away from overseeing their children’s networked activities as they feel outpaced by online technology:
- Only 20% say they know how to find out what their child is doing online.
- 74% of parents say they don't have the time or the energy to keep up with everything their child is doing online.
- 72% of parents say they are overwhelmed by modern technology and just hope for the best.
- 66% say their child is more tech-savvy than they are, and they’ll never be able to keep up with their child’s online behaviours.
- This attitude is amplified among parents of tweens!
- 58% of tweens say they know how to hide what they do from their parents, and this number jumps to 65% for teens, and 80% for young adults.
- Nearly half (46%) of the young people indicated they would actually change their online behaviour if they knew their parents were watching.
The worst-case scenario here isn’t your child telling you an adult is asking them for naked photos.
The worst-case scenario is that they don’t.
So, what CAN you do if your child tells you that they have been harmed online?
Part 2: Hashtag You’re It: Parenting tips for responding to online harm.
Dr Annabel Chan is a forensically-trained Clinical Psychologist who specialises in social media dynamics, attachment and identity formation, and behavioural problems in children and adolescents. A skilled navigator of cyberculture and online social behaviour, Annabel enjoys helping her clients and their parents get the most out of communication technology and recognise its strengths and dangers.
Grief And Loss
Infant Mental Health