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Parenting Teenage Boys in the Age of Online Influencers

Here are some tips to help navigate discussing influencers with your sons.

Key points

  • Parents are often not aware of the online influencers their teenage sons follow.
  • Communication is key for parents to understand the role of influencers on their teenage sons.
  • Influencers may or may not impact a teenager's life, so it's best for parents to stay attuned to their teen's mental health.
Julie M Cameron/Pexels
Julie M Cameron/Pexels

Today’s concerns about loneliness and online behavior appear to create the perfect storm of online influencers having an impact on our teenage sons. As loneliness increasingly becomes a public health issue for all ages, teenagers may logically turn to online environments to connect with others. Online environments can include social media as well as following “influencers.”

Pew Research Center released survey data in December 2022 indicating that parents were very concerned about the time spent on social media and what their teenagers are exposed to. Discussions of teenagers and social media often turn to the topic of monitoring their use, but parents often may not even know who or what their teenagers are consuming online.

In fact, little research exists examining the role of online influencers (like Logan Paul or Andrew Tate) on teenage boys’ attitudes and behaviors, despite increasing coverage in mainstream media. From fitness influencers promoting specific workouts to streamers recording their video game play to young males promoting misogyny, teenage boys have access to such a landscape of viewpoints that it can be hard for parents to keep up with what, exactly, their sons are exposed to.

Although research on the ongoing impact of influencers on teenage boys is lacking, likely in large part due to the rapidly changing nature of influencer culture and online personalities, parents remain concerned about the potential that others might have on changing the values and ideals of their teenage sons. Parents may not even be aware of online influence until damage has been done.

Parents need to stay aware of online influence, particularly as teenage boys are continuing to develop physically, emotionally, and socially. But how can parents stay current when the culture is rapidly changing and they have concerns about their teenage sons’ online behavior and consumption?

1. Pay attention.

When your son starts talking about the latest Twitch streamer or podcast he is listening to, pay attention and ask some questions. Maybe you have no idea what your son is talking about, but it is up to you, as the parent, to ask questions in order to understand. Don’t dismiss his interests just because you have not heard of the person or platform he is referencing. Try to understand and pay attention to ideas he is discussing that seem to come from other sources.

You also should try to pay attention to the news and ask your son about someone you hear about. Andrew Tate, for example, recently sparked a lot of conversations between parents and their sons who follow him online after his arrest was covered in the news.

2. Be careful when setting limits.

Teenage boys who spend excessive amounts of time on technology may need help with setting time limits for online participation. Whether that involves video games or social media or watching YouTube videos, it is good for parents to set expectations and structure around time spent and the appropriateness of what is consumed.

However, when you start to set boundaries regarding your son’s online behavior, be careful in your approach. Forbidding your son, for example, from viewing certain material is likely to lead him to want to seek it out. But if you explain your rationale and your concerns with certain people’s impact on his views and mental health, then he just might understand and respond well to the limits you set forth.

3. Talk to other adults in your son’s life.

When parents have concerns about their teenage sons, sometimes it seems easier to try to solve potential problems on their own. Much of parenting, though, works better in community. So look to the other adults in your son’s life and talk about online influences. Maybe it is a teacher who hears what teenagers talk about in the halls all day every day or a coach who is younger and may be more informed about influencers and gamers. Other adults in your son’s life can provide you with information that your son may be reluctant to share willingly and can also help guide conversations you, as a parent, seek to have with your son about ideas spread through online influencers.

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4. Remember the big picture.

When you, as a parent, have concerns about what your son is watching or listening to online, remember the fact that many things will impact his thoughts, views, and behaviors as he grows and develops. So think of influencers as one, but not the only, area of your son’s life.

But most importantly, stay attuned to his mental health and how this area may change his mental health. If his online consumption and the people he follows do not appear to have much of an impact or have a positive impact, then rest easier and learn what you can about your son's interests. Maybe your son has learned the importance of a whole-foods diet and wants to try out new recipes he has seen online. If, however, you notice your son's mental health declining, seek support and assistance for you and your son. Maybe your son has followed someone who engages in self-injurious behavior and you see your son moving down a similar path. Find help for your son when you see the need.

Remember, too, that we are all navigating the online world as it continues to change.

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