Technology has given rise to whole new career paths—including the influencer. In this Parents article, Mindpath College Health’s Andrew Monasterio, DNP, PMHNP-BC, APN, explains why Gen-Z want to be full-time influencers and the importance of social media safety.
New data from Morning Consult shows the career may continue to grow. According to the report, 57% of people in Gen-Z (people born between 1997 and 2012) say they’d be an influencer if the opportunity presented itself. That number is virtually the same as in 2019 (57%).
“While the influencer path may seem like a ticket to financial independence, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, especially if you’re entangled in deals with brands that operate on tight budgets and have their own agendas,” says Andrew Monasterio, DNP, PMHNP-BC, APN, a psychiatric nurse practitioner from Mindpath College Health, Isla Vista.
But at what cost is this content creation and product pitching coming to the influencer? It’s a valid question given the reports and data about the mental health harm social media can come with, particularly youth.
Perhaps Daniel Rinaldi, a therapist, said it best when he noted, “I think there’s a lot to unpack here, and we have to take a zoom out to look at the concept of working for yourself in general.”
Why does Gen-Z want to influence?
“Why?” and “How?” may be two words that immediately roll off the tongue when someone from an older generation–myself included—reads the Morning Consult statistics about Gen-Z’s continued desire to become influencers.
Influencers have developed followings and fame once reserved for entertainers and sports stars.
“The desire might be Gen-Z’s modern take on the classic dream of becoming a rock star,” Dr. Monasterio says. “The glamour is undeniable, but just as not every aspiring musician reaches Taylor’s global status, not every influencer becomes an overnight sensation.”
Influencers earn money off of product endorsements or services, often without having to leave home. To some extent, influencing is a get-rich-quick strategy for the digital age with role models that are, well, the same age or thereabouts as Gen-Zers.
“Gen-Zers like Charli D’Amelio, Everleigh Rose Soutas, and Matty B Raps all have millions of followers, numerous product endorsements, and often receive hundreds of thousands of dollars—if not more—in passive income simply from posting their opinions of what’s cool and what’s not,” says Titania Jordan, Bark Technologies’ Chief Parent Officer and co-author of Parenting in a Tech World.
Experts are concerned about harms of influencing on Gen-Z
The popularity and money may seem like a slam dunk to young social media users. However, experts fear that the risks can outweigh the benefits.
In 2022, Bark released an annual report based on 4.5 billion messages from more than 30 apps and social media platforms. It found that more than 71% of tweens and 83% of teens experienced bullying as a bully, victim, or witness to it. Additionally, more than one-third of tweens (35.7%) and nearly two-thirds of teens (64.3%) were involved in a situation related to self-harm or suicide.
Influencing may only worsen these risks.
“The pursuit of influencer status often involves significant online exposure, which can lead to issues like cyberbullying, social comparison, and feelings of inadequacy,” says Dr. Monasterio. “The desire to be an influencer, if not approached mindfully, could contribute to mental health challenges.”
What’s more, influencing isn’t necessarily what, in the parenting world, people term a “nap-time gig”—something you can do for an hour or two while your kid naps and makes a large income. If you do achieve a mass following, it’s a job that comes with critics, trolls, and bullying.
“The pressure to maintain a public image, handle criticism, and meet audience expectations can take a toll on one’s well-being,” Dr. Monasterio says. “Just as music artists may face the psychological challenges of the spotlight, influencers should be proactive in prioritizing their mental health.”
How to talk to your children about influencing
Keep an open mind
It was easy for generations that established their careers in eras that predated the need for social media managers to tell me all I did was “play on Twitter all day.” Yet, that didn’t stop the position from growing. Dr. Monasterio suggests parents avoid uttering similar statements.
“Instead of making broad statements like all social media is bad or saying things like, ‘Stay off Tickity-Tok,’ acknowledge the reality and potential benefit,’” Dr. Monasterio advises. “You could say, ‘I see that social media offers great opportunities for creativity and connecting with like-minded people.”
Go back to basics
Hopefully, you’ve already laid a foundation with your children about social media use, stemming from conversations you had before giving them access to a phone and certain platforms. Consider the discussion about influencing a continuation of that open dialogue.
You may have envisioned your child being a doctor, lawyer, or teacher. But ultimately, their career choices are up to them.
“Gen-Z individuals are known for valuing their autonomy and independence,” Dr. Monasterio says. “When discussing their aspirations, respecting their autonomy and allowing them to make their own choices empowers them and fosters a sense of agency in decision-making. Phrases like, ‘Ultimately, it’s your journey, and I’m here to support you in making informed decisions,’ convey your respect for their independence.”
What might that support look like? Rinaldi says parents can help by:
- Researching data and facts.
- Asking thought-provoking questions like, “What does it mean to review a product?”
- Discussing that influencers may buy likes and followers and the dangers of comparison.
“The key here is also to be involved in the journey with your child,” Rinaldi says.
Parents may fear that supporting a child’s decision to influence is like giving them unfettered access to the Wild West. Just like allowing them to join a social media platform or have a phone isn’t a license to do whatever they want, neither is this support. Boundaries are critical.
“Discuss online safety and the importance of setting boundaries,” Dr. Monasterio says. “Encourage them to consider what they’re comfortable sharing and with whom. You might say, ‘Let’s create some ground rules together to protect your privacy and safety online.’”
Monitor and fine-tune
Discussions and rules around social media use and content creation are more than one-and-done. As platforms and your child’s journey evolve, and we get more information, it’s okay to revisit boundaries and your stance on influencing.
For example, if screen time is soaring, Dr. Monasterio suggests saying, “Let’s agree on screen time limits so you can have time for other hobbies and spending time with friends.”
Finally, emphasizing the importance of mental health in your reasoning also resonates with this generation.