Family affairs: American teen influencer Logan Paul with his parents, Greg and Pam. Photograph: Kevin Mazur/Fox/Getty Images
Eastwood says her parents have been supportive of her work, even if they don’t always fully understand it. And she’s glad she found success as a social media star later in life (in her ripe old 30s), rather than in her teens. “Everyone in this world talks about their ‘brand’, but the truth is I know my brand because I know myself. You can fall into things when you’re young because it seems fun and free stuff is on offer, but you need to actually know who you are and what you want and what you like. Also, you should see the number of offers for free plastic surgery I get – it’s terrifying.”
Most adults have a pretty linear notion of what “achievement” looks like: money, power and influence. But with children, the concept is far more ambiguous. Is a child who gives up their education in favour of making money or amassing a following actually more successful than the child who thrives in school? Moreover, what sort of values does a child actually learn from experiencing overnight success – and could you even shelter them from it if you wanted to? (Answer: only if you locked them in their room without a phone until they became old enough to vote.)
As Tiff Lewis, the mother of Madison Lewis (a singing star on Musical.ly with more than 2.6m fans), recently mused in an interview: “You think you’re doing right by your child, but it’s hard when you don’t know what you’re doing. She’s just on here having fun as a kid, but then you realise, well, she could make a lot of money off this. Is that a smart thing we should do? It was scary as a parent not knowing who to turn to. Then, a little over a year ago, she let management start to take over, and again I had to wonder whether that was the right move. How do you know if any of this is what’s really best?”
Personal security is another serious issue for the parents of teen influencers to consider. Christina Ford says she “went crazy with worry” when Buzzfeed published the name of her daughter’s LA high school. And she’s right to be concerned.
Last November, the Dolan Twins (two American teens with more than 5m followers on YouTube) tried to organise an informal meet-and-greet with fans in London’s Hyde Park. The day before, they jumped on Twitter and announced to fans where they’d be and when. Shortly after doing so, they realised it was Remembrance Day, so they cancelled the gathering and apologised – but it was too late. Thousands of teenage fans gathered at the park the following day, only to be disappointed. The angry adolescent mob then erupted into a mini-riot in which several people were trampled and injured, and the police were forced to intervene.
While some parents (like Ford) instinctively want to protect their children from the spotlight, others happily step into it themselves. Inspired by his daughter’s success, Charlotte D’Alessio’s father is reportedly starting his own Instagram magazine. Other parents leverage their kids’ fanbase even further, becoming professional influencers in their own right.
Greg Paul and Pam Stepnick, the super-gregarious parents of Jake and Logan Paul (two of America’s biggest teen influencers on the planet, with more than 28m followers combined), regularly appear in their sons’ videos and have amassed huge followings themselves on YouTube and Instagram respectively. Pam and Greg regularly make “reaction videos” to their son’s vlogs, take part in pranks and feuds, stirring drama into the vlogosphere – and, of course, adding to the family income. The result is an exhaustive, 24/7 archive of the minutiae of family life that makes the Kardashian clan look shy and retiring by comparison.
You won’t encounter many profound insights into the human condition watching the Paul brothers on YouTube, but you will find a certain amount of self-referential musing on just how strange it is to be a successful teen influencer in 2018. After moving from their home town of Westlake, Ohio, to Los Angeles, the teens branched out into other media, appearing in various TV shows and films, and even starting a company called TeamDom, which aims to be a “modern-day media conglomerate focused on building powerful brands, stories, celebrities and businesses around teen entertainment and media”. Or, as Jake Paul himself put it loftily: “I want to be the Dr Dre of social media.”
As time moves on, the first generation of under-age influencers is now coming of age. Today, Charlotte D’Alessio is 20, signed to a new management company and attempting to “monetise her brand”. Her first serious boyfriend, Presley Gerber, the model son of Cindy Crawford and a fellow influencer (Insta following: 601,000 plus) also helps to keep her in the public eye. Paparazzi regularly tail the teen couple around Los Angeles and elsewhere.
When Charlotte came to visit her mother in London over Christmas last year, she was stopped several times on the street for photographs by starstruck teenage fans. To Ford, who recently started a blog of her own about being a North American in London, her daughter’s overnight success is still difficult to grasp. “It’s hard for me to actually believe that she’s ‘famous’ because to my mind she hasn’t really done anything yet,” says Ford. “But she’s said to me: ‘Mom, I’ve got this window,’ and I get that.”
Today, Charlotte is doing some modelling, but mostly she exists in the nebulous new world of Instagram models – a global league of (mostly) attractive and uninhibited young women with a substantial online following which leverages the eyeballs of their audience in exchange for glamorous party invitations, free trips, designer clothing, accessories, make-up and beauty treatments – and, at the highest levels, actual cold hard cash.
How does her mother feel about it? Ford shrugs and smiles, her expression philosophical. “She’s an adult now and it’s her life, her choice, so I respect it. But I do sometimes think about all the money and time I spent on her education and, you know, carefully selecting her lessons and activities, all so that she could just become… famous for being famous. And that’s a job? It all seems so random.”
How do parents teach their kids values in the era of overnight influencers? Not very easily. But here’s to one mother for trying.