How YouTube Influenced Our Generation Growing Up

By Jessica Collins

YouTube Logo. Photo via: 

YouTube is the biggest video streaming platform in the world. It’s been around since 2005, meaning that many teenagers and young adults today grew up with YouTube as one of the main influences, entertainment-wise. Generation Z, those born from the mid-1990s to the mid-2010s, are the first generation who truly grew up watching YouTube as a main form of entertainment. 

YouTube was easy to access for many youths growing up, and especially with that generation using the internet way more than the previous. 

“Parents would always put on Disney Channel or Nickelodeon for their children to watch,” said Kendall Bush, a student at SUNY Plattsburgh. “But when kids go on YouTube, it’s kind of more uncensored and can expose kids to a lot more, whether that’s good or bad.” 

Compared to television, kids now are watching more YouTube for many reasons. Some could be that it’s more accessible, easier to use and more affordable. A big aspect of YouTube is that it is free. YouTube has services that you can pay for, but for the most part, every single video on YouTube is accessible to anyone. Of course, regional and age restrictions can prevent people from seeing things, along with parental controls. 

“To an extent, it is the parents’ job to monitor that, to make sure that their kids aren’t watching something that’s dangerous or that they shouldn’t be seeing,” Bush said. 

But this free service with videos from different cultures and aspects of life can allow children to learn about things they may not be on cable television. Also, with cable dying out, and streaming services available with a monthly subscription, YouTube would seem like a viable option to many, especially because there are specific channels dedicated to children’s content, getting millions of views. 

“I wasn’t really introduced to YouTube until my teens, because it wasn’t really big when I was a kid, but I definitely watched more YouTube than TV in my late teens,” Bush said. “That definitely shaped me, I think.”

Bush, who was born in 2000, is a member of Gen Z, and like many early members of this generation, grew up with both television and movies in their early childhood, but with the easy access to the internet in their late childhood to teenage years. 

“I grew up watching a lot of movies and TV, but I heavily rely on YouTube now,” Bush said. “And towards my pre-teens, teens, early adulthood, I mostly watched YouTube.” 

One of the most influential YouTubers for Gen Z, and even late millennials, was Shane 

Dawson. Dawson was an active YouTuber from 2008 to 2020, which made him popular across both generations, and he changed his content frequently. First, he did skits and characters, which often played off stereotypes. Then, he did taste tests and challenges and list videos with bright yellow thumbnails. Finally, he transitioned into vlogs and longer “documentary” style videos, which often ran over an hour long. With these multiple changes in content, he reached new audiences every time, reaching his peak in 2018 with the documentaries on Tana Mongeau, Jeffree Star and Jake Paul. 

Shane Dawson at VidCon 2012. Photo via /7492065030 

Dawson during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 had videos from his past which included offensive, stereotypical characters that did not sit well with audiences today. This, along with other controversial statements, led YouTube to demonetize his channel indefinitely and for him to release a video called “Taking Accountability.” 

“Contrary to most people, I started watching Shane when I was in high school,” Bush said. “So I had no idea about his past.” 

“When everything about his troublesome past came out, it was kind of like ‘Damn.’ And I’ve been unsubscribed ever since the Jeffree Star videos.” 

Although many people joined Dawson during his later years, many who had been with him since the beginning had that feeling of a big influence in their life going away, rightfully. So, this idea of young people looking up to YouTubers can be controversial because of the fact they have control over their own content, and they can influence their audience into certain beliefs. This problem was not as prominent in TV or movies because most YouTubers just are themselves; they don’t play characters seriously or for extended periods of time.

Overall, it’s up to the parents to decide what they want their children to watch and how much supervision they need to have over their children’s entertainment. All parents should be involved anyway, but YouTube is a great way for young children to learn about the world other than just a textbook. 

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