For many families summer means sending kids to camp, and that now includes YouTube camps. These are essentially places where kids can learn how to create slicker YouTube videos and channels. The demand has grown as kids want to emulate the online stars they watch.
Marketplace’s Jed Kim spoke with Julie Jargon, the family and technology columnist at the Wall Street Journal who wrote about the trend. She said kids learn how to light, shoot and edit videos along with more intangible skills, like how to develop their personal brands. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Julie Jargon: They’re teaching them to create their own unique voice so that they can stand out in the crowd of YouTubers and develop original content. But a lot of the kids I talked to, they just want to shoot videos of themselves playing “Fortnite.” There’s a lot of that already, but that’s what a lot of kids are interested in doing. They watch the YouTubers playing video games and then they want to do it themselves.
Jed Kim: I have to say, I hear YouTube camp and my initial reaction is…gross. I know that’s just me being uninformed and reactionary. Help me understand the value of this.
Jargon: I think that’s the reaction of a lot of parents. There is a debate raging in a lot of households right now about whether to allow children to have their own YouTube channels. A lot of the first time reaction from parents is, “No.” There are a lot of concerns about kids being exposed publicly and being open to bullying and predators and all that stuff that we worry about on the internet. But a lot of the parents I spoke to, who also shared those concerns, went about it thoughtfully and said, “Well, my kid wants to do something. They’re passionate about it. How do I foster that?” They’re finding a way to look at YouTube as a medium that can be an outlet for creativity, to develop the skills that they might not be able to develop on their own at home. Also, learning the poise and the composure of speaking on film and addressing an audience. Those are all good things for kids to know how to do.
Kim: Yes, summer is this blank canvas for kids to do whatever they want or what their parents want them to learn. Are parents valuing the development of digital skills more than they did in the past?
Jargon: I think so. I think there’s a growing awareness of the fact that these kind of skills could be useful for future careers. Gaming alone is such a huge industry. A lot of kids go to coding camps to learn how to code video games. There are a lot of digital skills that an older generation of parents doesn’t have and they’re seeing that it could be applicable to future career choices for their children.
Kim: Some parents are increasingly concerned about screen time and social media and spending all day video gaming, even if it is for learning. What makes a family more wary of tech compared to other families that are like, “Go for it.”
Jargon: I think it comes down to an individual choice and individual feelings about technology. Some families really embrace it and they don’t want their kids to be behind. They feel that if their kids aren’t learning these skills or aren’t aware of what’s going on on social media and the internet more broadly, that they will somehow be social outcasts or they won’t have the skills to be competitive in the future workforce. Other parents are just really cautious. It’s not what we grew up with.
You hear the horror stories and you hear about online bullying. YouTube is a very public forum and people can leave mean comments. Is a child really ready to deal with that? Are they developmentally ready and emotionally ready to let it roll off their skin when someone posts a mean comment about their video? That’s a difficult thing for even adults to face, that kind of criticism from the trolls. Parents have to really prepare their kids for that. There are things you can do. You can moderate the comments that are posted on YouTube. You can turn them off. You can make a YouTube channel private so no one can see it. That sort of defeats the whole purpose of posting on YouTube, though, because it’s meant to be shared. YouTube videos are meant to be commented on. It’s just a whole new world that parents are trying to navigate. It really comes down to personal choice as to whether you want your kids to jump into that world or keep them away from it to the extent possible.
Kim: Let’s talk a little more about the fame side of things. Some camps that you found were cautioning against building expectations that your kid is going to be a star. But other camps were using it as a marketing point. Is there anything problematic with that?
Jargon: Yeah, what are the chances that your child is going to achieve some sort of YouTube fame? Probably pretty slim considering how many videos are on YouTube and the mystery about what the algorithm chooses to push up. You can create a video and get no views. It’s really hard sometimes to sift through all the videos and find a video on a particular topic. There are something like one billion hours of YouTube videos viewed daily. How do you break through the clutter and make your video stand out?
I think parents have to be realistic with themselves and with their children that just because he posted a video to YouTube doesn’t mean you’re going to start having a million subscribers and advertising and sponsorship contracts and that kind of thing. Certainly people have achieved fame and fortune on YouTube but, just like with anything else, you’re not going to become necessarily the next star NBA player just because you go to a basketball camp. I think you have to be realistic and understand what you and your child want to achieve with their YouTube channel.
Related links: more insight from Jed Kim
Interested to know how YouTube is working to weed out the objectionable videos that get uploaded? Vox sat down with Neal Mohan, the company’s chief product officer. He says it’s not just about finding bad videos and removing them. It’s about constantly updating the user guidelines for computers and human workers to follow. Among the staggering stats you’ll read: 500 hours of video content get uploaded every minute. More than 10,000 people have been hired to make the final decision of whether a video stays or goes. And Mohan says “corpus” no fewer than seven times (as in the full of body of work on YouTube).
How about the promise of making money through your YouTube channel? Business Insider lays out the path to getting your channel into the YouTube Partner Program. First thing you have to do in order to be eligible? Have at least a thousand subscribers, and your audience has to have watched 4,000 hours of you in the past year. There’s a lot more that goes into it from there, including different tiers at which you can access more tools. It’s a little daunting.
Finally, learning camps are a way to combat the dreaded “summer slide” or that thing where your kid gets dumber during the months they’re not in school. Every year lots of articles get churned out with ways to combat it. We found some suggestions in Parenting and Read Brightly with ideas of apps to help.