Dubai: As a growing number of teenagers vlog their way to fame on social media platforms, the question many parents should be asking is: at what cost are their children gaining an online celebrity persona?

According to Dr Catherine Frogley, a child and adolescent clinical psychologist at Lighthouse Arabia in Dubai, the potential risks of becoming an influencer on a child’s emotional well-being can be “detrimental”.

While being an influencer at any age has a number of risks, the stakes are far greater in the case of children, whose brains are evolving and developing in response to their experiences with the world.

“Children are constantly learning how to initiate and maintain relationships, exploring their sense of self and forming habits and behaviours that will pave the way for their future,” said Dr Frogley.

Childhood and adolescence are critical phases during which self-identity is formed based on values and experiences. And if digital celebrityhood descends on them during these formative years, there can be many consequences, from online feedback that can be barbed to unwanted attention that young minds are unprepared for, she said.

How online celebrityhood works

The underlying principle of online celebrityhood is in a broad sense relevant to both the young and old. For both groups, success is defined by the number of likes, comments and followers.

“This external validation is not based on real-world interactions and connections and therefore, the initial dopamine hit from a ‘like’ online is only short-lasting,” explained Dr Frogley.

Similar to young actors who are thrown into the world of celebrity during their childhood, child influencers may suddenly experience a new and distorted reality, said Dr Frogley.

They may receive a huge amount of attention as a result of their digital persona, which makes maintaining a normal life, engaging in everyday activities and feeling connected to people their own age difficult.

Forced to mature quickly

Dr Frogley pointed out that many are also forced to mature quickly as they are exposed to the fast-paced world of business at a young age, therefore, missing out on normal childhood.

“Some become overprotected, pampered or spoilt by those around them, which can lead to a sense of entitlement or an inflated ego which can cause social problems and loneliness later on in life,” she added.

An important challenge for young influencers is their still-developing aptitude to handle unwanted attention.

Children may not fully appreciate the dangers of placing oneself in the spotlight as they may have only seen the unrealistic, heavily edited and inflated portrayal of being an influencer. However, by putting themselves out there, they become vulnerable to criticism, scrutiny, rejection and jealousy.

This external validation is not based on real-world interactions and connections and therefore, the initial dopamine hit from a ‘like’ online is only short-lasting.

- Dr Catherine Frogley | Clinical psychologist

“As a child, you are expected to make some mistakes or poor choices from time to time as part of growing up. However, as a celebrity influencer, your sources of judgement are multiplied by thousands or millions in some cases,” said Dr Frogley.

Self-confidence can also take a hit in the process as any failure is documented online and accessible to the masses.

The risks are also higher for a child influencer as mistakes can result in losing followers, sponsors or advertising deals.

What can parents do if their child wants to be an influencer?

With the right support, children can still achieve mature, all-round growth as adults if other aspects of their childhood life remains grounded.

  • Continue to have clear boundaries and rules for your child on their priorities.
  • Ensure that the child engages in regular routines and participates in everyday tasks.
  • Spend time with people that have the child’s best interests at heart.
  • Set limits around the work and time spent online.
  • Make time to talk to your child about the impact of being an influencer.
  • Educate them about the pitfalls of the industry.