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Last night I saw headlines about the death of a YouTube star, Landon Clifford, a father of two young children at the age of 19. I clicked, because how does a 19-year-old have two children and why is he a YouTube star? His wife posted this picture with some of her friends at his funeral, and a quick click-through indicated she’s just one of several popular YouTube teen mothers who travel in the same ecosystem.
I spent hours going through videos and posts on her account that has north of one million subscribers. Their videos show these young parents “vlogging” or video-logging, bringing their babies to school or telling the story of how they told their parents they were pregnant at sixteen years old. They tell the story of how they were “trying” to have another baby after they got married at 18, and their youngest was born in May of this year.
Her account mostly glorifies teen pregnancy, and she has entire playlists jam-packed with videos on teen pregnancy fashion and collaborations with other teen mothers. Their videos average over a million views each and some, like the video about bringing their baby to school, has over four million. On some videos, you can see the young mother, Camryn, recognized by subscribers, who all effusively express to her their love of her content.
What happened to her husband? It’s still unclear, in her announcement post of his death, Camryn indicated a “brain injury” of some kind, and in the weeks before his death, she posted about her own mental health struggles. His father on his personal Facebook posted about suicide and mental health awareness immediately following his young son’s death. In an Instagram live shortly after his death, Camryn says she has left the home they were living in together in Austin because “of what happened there.” She went on to explain that she would eventually share the details of his death, which she called “gruesome” but that she understands the need to be responsible because of the younger nature of her audience. She sounded as if she were afraid of glorifying what had happened to her young husband, an incredibly mature perspective for such a young woman to have, especially in the midst of such a crisis. She explained she wanted to share his story, because she felt as if doing so would build an awareness for whatever it is that ultimately took his life.
It’s wonderful that Cam, as she’s known, understands the fact that as an “influencer” she is a role model and trendsetter. What’s interesting is this understanding was certainly present two weeks ago, while she was operating a YouTube account glorifying teen pregnancy and motherhood. One of my Instagram followers is a long-time follower of Cam and would likely disagree with my assessment. She explained to me, “I’ve been following Camryn off and on for about a year and a half. She is one of a few family YouTubers that I like, but she’s also the youngest. As far as I can tell, she’s an example of someone who made the best of a bad situation (meaning teen pregnancy)… Family YouTubers, especially teen moms, is an entire galaxy on YouTube. Half of them glorify teen pregnancy, and half of them are hard-working (they’re influencers but in today’s world that’s still a job) moms who are able to make a good living.”
Given the teen pregnancy rate, obviously these accounts aren’t inspiring a legion of copycats, though I’d make the bet there have at least been some. What is it we can draw from the intense popularity of this genre among teens?
There is a deep sense of loneliness among teens: it’s why suicide rates are sky-high and even before COVID pushed teens into socializing solely online, kids formed social communities not among their schoolmates and neighbors, but online. But this community isn’t creating positive relationships for kids. My friend Abigail Shrier recently released a must-read book about the “transgender crazy seducing our daughters” and credits YouTube with the transgender transformation of many of the subjects of her book. Teen mom YouTube is just a cousin of teen transgender YouTube, a group of young people who grew up on the service (Camryn opened her account ten years ago, at the age of nine according to the channel’s YouTube creation date), providing content to glorify and normalize their unhealthy lifestyles.
As more of our children grow up as digital natives, it’s important to keep tabs on what they’re watching and why. These “influencers,” are influencing an entire generation of our kids, and by all appearances, it isn’t going well.Published in