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From Streaming to Stalking

Wal Mart carries ring lights now.

digital recording setup

Not the kind that you might use in your kitchen or bathroom. No, the kind that YouTube and Instagram “celebrities” use to provide soft, translucent video content to their swarms of fans and followers.

A friend of mine found out that Wal-Mart is now carrying fashion ring lights the hard way…she was cleaning out her daughter’s closet looking for a missing sock and low and behold, tucked away behind the hamper and wrapped in a pillowcase was a ring light.

At first, she thought, “how odd, I don’t remember us buying this…”, before it dawned on her that her daughter must have purchased that item on her own. She was babysitting after all, so had a bit of her own cash.

She Googled ring lights and even the brand and found the item on Amazon for $49.

Ring lights have become a staple of YouTube content creators. You need a Camera (an iPhone will do in a pinch), a ring light, and a microphone like a Yeti Blue. That ‘kit’ has sort of become ubiquitous among streaming content creators.

With a bit more research, my friend discovered that her daughter had a YouTube channel and an Instagram profile, both of which had a few hundred subscribers or followers. The good news was that her daughter’s videos were about “nerd fashion” and comic book movies, nothing salacious or sexual, so bullet dodged there.

However, that didn’t change the fact that her daughter had hidden this part of her life from her, nor did it change the realization she was completely in the dark about this form of social exposure.

What kids do online is increasingly oriented around “broadcasting” and “sharing”, rather than consuming. When we were all kids, the danger of the Internet was what we might stumble across and be exposed to: pornography or violent content that we could stumble across inadvertently. But now, thanks to Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, the Internet has become much more a platform for people to share their own content, with more and more of that sharing coming via video and images.

Hence, ring lights.

Of course, I don’t need to point out the inherent dangers of having this type of content published out there for everyone to see. Not just the obvious dangers like perverts and stalkers who may discover, follow and eventually harass our children, but also just the open invitation that public celebrities, however small, invite critiques and engagement that can be very unkind. YouTube and Social media stars are often the victims of vicious attacks on social platforms and in video comments, causing anxiety and emotional distress that many teens will find difficult to deal with.

The net result is that we have a new battleground and area of concern to include in our list of potential threats that face our kids every day. Am I suggesting that teenage kids shouldn’t have a YouTube channel? No necessarily (although I’d suggest strong consideration and caution here). But at the very least, we should know about it and ask thoughtful questions, provide supervision, guidance, and ground rules. Monitor the comments sections. See who is following them and who is responding to their posts. YouTube provides some great tools for measuring who is watching and subscribing to your channel. If your 14-year-old daughter has a channel about collecting badges on Minecraft and 95% of her subscribers are teens, you’re probably OK, but if you find 50% of her followers are males over the age of 40, you might have cause for concern.

It’s a whole new world out there in terms of streaming, sharing, and posting, and it’s our job to both be aware of the technologies as they change, but also how our kids are absorbing and participating in that world.

One place to start: search for your child on YouTube, Instagram, and Twitch. Note they probably don’t post under their own name, it’s likely a “channel” name, but with enough sleuthing, you can figure it out.

Of course, there is always the old-fashioned way: just ask them.

Good luck out there.

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