B is for branding: How YouTube became a playground for India's kidfluencers

A rising number of children below the age of 12 are social media stars. But is it risky for children to experience fame at a young age?
B is for branding: How YouTube became a playground for India's kidfluencers
B is for branding: How YouTube became a playground for India's kidfluencers

At the age of nine, Nihal Raj is a YouTube star. The Kochi boy was six years old when he appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and won hearts for his simple puttu recipe. His YouTube cooking channel has around 34,000 subscribers and some of his videos have garnered around 2 lakh views each.

“Nihal was three-and-a-half-years-old when he first started taking an interest in cooking. One day he was making ice popsicles at home and asked me to take a video. He narrated the recipe really well and so I uploaded it on social media. I received good feedback, with many of my friends telling me Kicha (as Nihal is popularly known as) is really good at this and they suggested I start up a Youtube channel for him,” Rajagopal Krishnan, Kicha’s father, tells TNM.

A company saw his video on Facebook and sought its rights. When Rajagopal realised that Facebook had bought the video for $2,000, he decided to start the YouTube channel. And that is how KichaTubeHD took off.

Kicha today has over 165 videos on his channel. The page is managed by his father and his mother, Ruby, comes up with recipes that do not involve chopping and cooking with fire. The videos are edited by his father, who is assisted by Kicha while his older sister uploads the videos onto his channel.

Rajagopal says the nine-year-old works for about two hours every week on a video and usually, around three to four videos are uploaded every month, some of them endorsed by brands.

But Kicha is not the only one. Thirteen-year-old Amar, who lives in Telangana’s Mancherial, teaches basic geography on his YouTube channel. The channel named ‘Learn With Amar’ has 33 videos and over 2.30 lakh subscribers.

“When he was in the 6th standard, he learnt the names of all the countries in the world as well as their capitals. My wife uploaded that video to show his memory skills. He received a great response from the viewers and they were keen to see more content. That prompted me to upload many other videos of classes and they are now watched by people all over the globe, from Europe and America as well,” shares his father Goverdhana Chary Thogiti, who is a government teacher and a district level resource person. Amar's father trains teachers at the district level on how to teach children in a way they would easily understand. Goverdhana Chary narrates that when he similarly taught his children – Amar and his younger brother Anagh Vignesh – these concepts, they grasped it very easily.

Both Kicha and Amar’s parents emphasise that they make sure the time that goes into the making of the videos does not eat into their academics.

“I don’t want to disturb his academic curriculum. We pause shoots during exams and only during holidays and leisure time, we discuss the topics and he learns the concepts,” shares Goverdhana Chary. “He loves teaching, he enjoys making videos.”

Speaking to TNM, Amar shares that he loves teaching geography online but also wants to branch out to science and math. “Most of my students who watch are UPSC aspirants who learn geography from my videos. They write in the comments that they are UPSC students and my videos help them. Right now, we are teaching geography only but I would like to go on to civics, economics, history as well as science. It is a lot of fun and I never face any pressure,” he says.

Amar’s method of breaking down larger issues into smaller points which are easier to remember is what brings adults and children alike to his YouTube channel. For example, in his video titled ‘Countries of Europe, Easy way to learn,’ Amar explains that to learn the names of the countries, one can divide Europe into five parts – North, West, South, East and Centre and start from the North.

“Before going to the three countries in the North, let me ask you a question – what is the most valuable prize in the world? Yes, it is the Nobel prize. It is given in six areas. One of the six areas, peace, is given in Norway,” says Amar, pointing towards the country.

Amar and Kicha are just two examples depicting a rising trend in India. Nine-year-old Anantya Anand makes videos, ranging from small hairstyle hacks to everyday things like her exam routine, and has over 2 million subscribers on her YouTube channel ‘MyMissAnand.’ The Kalra siblings – 11-year-old Pihu and 5-year-old Aayu – are stars of the channel ‘Aayu and Pihu Show’ which has over 1 million subscribers.

The trend for children to headline YouTube videos is one that started in the west and spread across the globe. US resident Katie Stauffer’s 4-year-old twin daughters have 4 million followers on Instagram and each video gets at least 1 lakh views. Seven-year-old Ryan’s videos of him unboxing and reviewing toys have earned him $22 million in a year, a Forbes report states.

What is it that makes content put up by children so popular?

“Children are considered to be an innocent audience and the innocence degree of children is greater than adults. Secondly, they are perceived to be more truthful and candid than adults. When children have an audience of their own, it is a more believable audience that you can trust more. That is the reason brands approach children,” explains brand consultant Harish Bijoor.

Impact on children

There is no law yet in India that prevents children from appearing online. On YouTube and Instagram, as long as one mentions that the page is run by the child’s parents or an adult, children are allowed to host videos. According to a PTI report, India’s Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 is not applicable to a child who works as an artist in an audio-visual entertainment industry, including advertisement, films, television serials or any such other entertainment or sports activities except the circus, provided that no such work shall affect the school education of children.

However, Bijoor feels that ideally, children under the age of 18 should not feature in vlogs (video blogs) and YouTube videos.

“Personally speaking, children must keep out of a social media presence. The innocence of childhood tends to get corrupted when commerce and social media have a play in it,” Bijoor adds.

Balance and moderation are vital in such cases, says Dr Vandhana, a clinical psychologist based in Chennai.

“This (children headlining videos) is something we need to appreciate because many times, it brings out the child’s creativity and helps the child to gain confidence; it helps to make them bold and braver. At a young age, they are able to face things. But a thin line exists between normal and abnormal. As long as it is meant to enhance the child’s creativity and skills, it is absolutely fine. But when it crosses that line, then it becomes a little problematic,” Dr Vandhana explains.

Popularity and fame provide an ego boost but can also make children impulsive – they can’t wait for anything, they may seek instant gratification and they might not be able to deal with failure, even leading to performance pressure, anxiety or depression later on in life. This is where parents’ roles become crucial. Children must be taught and given that experience that failure is a stepping stone and it does not make them feel upset, worried or depressed.

“Not every child can get the first rank, those things, if it does not get into their heads or parents, do not try to inculcate those things as well, then it becomes problematic. If children do not get accepted in the real world, if they don’t get attention from parents or teachers, or if they are neglected, they look for approval on social media. So when parents introduce the virtual world to their children, they need to also introduce them to things such as failure and tell their wards that it is okay if you don’t get approval and that even if you don’t get ‘likes,’ you can still be appreciated,” Dr Vandhana says.

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