Skip to main content

Two child influencers – Russian girl Nastya, seven, and ten-year-old US-born Ryan Kaji – are on YouTube’s top 10 earners list.

Between them, Nastya and Ryan won over 50 million US dollars Last year.

And that doesn’t include sponsorship and TV deals.

“There’s a lot of money to be made in this. [online video] space,” Tama Leaver, professor of internet studies at Curtin University, told ABC RN’s Life Matters.

And he can understand why parents don’t try to keep their kids out.

“It’s seductive to think, ‘Oh, well, I know this person and they make hundreds of dollars every time they post, that’s surely something my kid could get. [into],” he says.

But when a child goes from playing with online videos to paid work – even if he’s not one of the few to earn millions – what are his rights? And what are the responsibilities of their parents?

Australia behind on legislation

It’s not just YouTube that offers kids a way to monetize their videos – platforms like Instagram and TikTok can too, says Professor Leaver.

Professor Leaver would like to see Australia take a similar approach to France when it comes to protecting child influencers.(Provided)

Helping children navigate this space safely takes work, he says.

He would like to see Australia take inspiration from France’s book and introduce more protections for young online content creators.

“France is probably at the forefront where they now have a pretty clear rule about child influencers,” he says.

The country has regulated the hours of a under 16s can work online and enshrined the “right to be forgotten”, meaning platforms must remove a child’s content if requested.

The child’s earnings are also deposited in a bank account which they can only access after reaching the age of 16.

Professor Leaver says the UK and other jurisdictions are currently testing or considering different laws.

“But we also have to recognize that Australia doesn’t have much at all,” he says.

When does it become a profession?

The need for Australia to pass legislation regarding child influencers is becoming more pressing as this is a growing cohort.

Dad is filming or taking a picture of the family dancing at home.
Professor Leaver says there is a lot of work to be done to help children navigate social media platforms.(Getty: Commerce FG)

Jordan Michaelides, chief executive of talent agency Neuralle, said that although he only has three children on his books at the moment, his parents approach him regularly.

“We get requests all the time,” he says.

And he says he’s spoken with up to 60 parents over the past year who are managing their children’s budding influencer careers.

He says there is a clear point at which an online hobby turns into something more.

“As soon as you hit 100,000 subscribers and get an average of 100,000 views per video or per post, it starts to become work,” says Michaelides.

And that’s when parents often start looking for managers.

But it can be difficult for them to find representation.

He says talent managers are reluctant to represent influential kids in Australia, in part because of a lack of clarity around rules and regulations and managers’ responsibilities.

Australian law is “very murky”, he says, particularly with regard to payment and the ability to guarantee that payment, which is usually paid into a parent’s bank account, “will go to the child at the end of the day”.

“That’s the thing that I think really needs to change [in] the industry here, hopefully, at least.

“It makes everything very complex for your role as a manager.”

“Must be driven by child”

In Australia, there are only a handful of full-time child influencers, says Sarah Letts, content solutions manager at digital media organization TotallyAwesomeTV.

Ms Letts works with several of them and says she has developed close working relationships with most of their parents, who act as stewards of the children.

Content is usually shot on weekends and parents “always have their [children’s] best interests at heart,” she said.

Selfie portrait of a mother with long sandy blonde hair with her teenage son.  Both have big smiles.
Sarah Letts says her son’s videos led him to comment on surfing events. (Provided)

“All talk about saving for the future and that the child will have a savings account and they teach them how to manage and plan for the future,” she says.

“Some will do just fine and be able to save for an apartment, if they get to that point, but for many it may only be for smaller purposes. Some parents may take the standard management fee 20%, but often they don’t, so they want to help their child save as much as possible and guide them towards financial independence.”

Child influencers are more common in America, adds Ms Letts, where some parents create up to six videos a week with their family.

“Some succeed, but many also fail,” she says.

Mrs Letts’ own son attempted a career by influencing through his surf vlogs. It didn’t work out, but she says he learned some skills from that experience.

“Even though he never made any money from his YouTube, he gained confidence, confidence, experience on camera and had a lot of fun,” she says.

She and her husband have supported their son’s online video work, enjoying him “capturing [his] childhood for us”.

“All of those moments have documented his journey and growth in a way that’s quite unique and fun to look back on now that he’s 17.”

For other parents considering helping their child become an online influencer, she recommends never pushing an agenda.

“It should always be child-led,” she says.

If they show genuine interest, she thinks the parents should support them.

Mr Michaelides says this is a topic that will only come up in Australian families.

“I think we’re generally behind the United States by about three years,” he says.

“So at least they’re talking about it overseas. It’s probably only a matter of time before it becomes a major conversation here.”

RN in your inbox

Get more stories that go beyond the news cycle with our weekly newsletter.