The Atlantic

Raising a Social-Media Star

The parents of teen internet celebrities get a crash course in a new kind of fame while trying to maintain boundaries for their newly rich and powerful children.
Source: Margaret Fitzpatrick / Jen Birlem / Taylor Lorenz / Rob Bridges / Zak Bickel / The Atlantic

When then-14-year-old Jonas Bridges ran down the stairs of his Atlanta home shouting, “Dad, I’ve got 1,000 fans!” his father, Rob Bridges, hardly took notice. A few days later Jonas barreled into the living room again, saying, “Dad, I’ve got 3,000 fans now.” Again, his father brushed him off. Several days later, Jonas told his father, “I have 5,000 fans now and if I get to 10,000 I’ll get paid for it.” Finally, Rob Bridges turned to his wife and said, “Denise, what the hell is he talking about?”

What Jonas Bridges was trying to tell his father was that he was rapidly becoming famous on YouNow, a social video platform where he had begun hosting live-streams from his bedroom under the pseudonym “woahits_jonas.” Before his parents knew what was happening, Jonas had amassed an army of online fans for his vlogs and prank videos. Before they could grasp quite what his newfound fame meant, Jonas had begun raking in serious cash.

Jonas is just one of the many teens reaching unprecedented levels of fame via social media. Platforms like Musical.ly, Instagram, YouTube, YouNow, Periscope, and more allow anyone with a phone and internet access to build an audience, and today’s teens are spending more time on their phones than ever. Ninety-four percent of teens access the internet using their phone daily and 71 percent use more than one social-media platform, according to a 2016 Pew study. The vlogger-to-riches story has become so prevalent in teen culture that, according to a 2014 survey by Variety, YouTube stars are more popular and influential than mainstream celebrities in the eyes of U.S. teens.

Parenting these young internet stars, however, is not easy. As social platforms rise and fall, moms and dads across the country with zero experience in the entertainment industry are seeing their families’ lives transformed.   

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Parents can go years thinking their son or daughter is just an average teen on YouTube or Instagram until one day a marketing manager at a Fortune 500 brand calls the house asking to collaborate, as happened to one mother I spoke to. Some parents don’t become aware until other kids begin asking their child for

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