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Kids want to be YouTubers. Camps are cropping up to teach them.

Education programs aimed at helping children gain the skills needed to become online creators are exploding

Animation student Crosby, 8, poses for a portrait on the last day of Creator Camp in Katy, Tex., in August. (Danielle Villasana for The Washington Post)

KATY, Tex. — Graham, 10, has dreamed of being a YouTuber since he began watching videos on the platform when he was just 3 or 4 years old. “I think of myself being happy doing YouTube,” he said. “I feel like it would be a great experience for me.”

In a church building in this small town on the outskirts of Houston, Graham spent a recent Tuesday morning sketching out ideas for funny videos. This is Creator Camp, a summer program that teaches children ages 6 to 13 how to chart a path to success in the digital age.

Founded two years ago by a group of young creators who met through the film program at their high school, Creator Camp exploded this summer, attracting as many as 1,300 campers to 11 locations across Texas. Next year, they expect to have 18 locations — testament to a booming interest in the online creator industry.

A look inside the influencer camp teaching kids ages 6 through 13 how to make it big online. (Video: Hadley Green, Sarah Hashemi/The Washington Post)

Becoming a full-time creator has emerged as one of the most popular career goals among schoolchildren in America and around the globe. Nearly 30 percent of kids ages 8 to 12 listed “YouTuber” as their top career choice in a global survey conducted in 2019 by the Harris Poll and toymaker Lego — three times more than picked “astronaut.” The same year, a Morning Consult survey of Gen Z and millennials in the United States found that more than half of 13-to-38-year-olds — 54 percent — wanted to become social media influencers.

To meet the growing demand, after-school programs and summer camps like Creator Camp have cropped up from coast to coast to teach relevant filmmaking skills. More traditional camps that offer programs in the arts and sciences also have added YouTube tracks or classes. Even institutions of higher learning are catching up: Cornell, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Southern California and East Carolina University have added programs and courses on social media marketing and content creation.

Many kids have especially positive views of YouTube, and Creator Camp co-founder Cazden Morrison, 23, said the YouTube camp in Katy is the organization’s most popular. (Other offerings include “Minecraft Modding,” “Creative AI” and “3D Game Development.”) In interviews, Creative Camp campers said they see the video platform as a path to self-expression and social success — as well as fame and fabulous wealth.

“YouTubers make a lot, a lot of money,” said camper Colin, 9, who is also in the fourth grade. (The Washington Post agreed to refer to all underage Creator Camp campers by their first names.)

Each day, the kids arrive at 8:30 a.m. to learn technical skills such as video editing on CapCut, a mobile-first video editing platform created by TikTok parent ByteDance. They also learn about storyboarding, how to script videos and the basics of shooting a compelling video blog, or “vlog.”

In classrooms cluttered with props, green screens, costumes, lighting equipment, whiteboards and iPads for shooting and editing videos, Morrison said the kids find a place to explore their film and video passions.

“We want to change their relationship with technology, to not just see it as entertainment, but to see it as a tool to create,” Morrison said.

The camp costs $230 per week and runs three days out of the week. Children in the program have varying skills and access to technology. While some kids spoke of having their own iPhone 13 or professional-grade cameras, others said they created videos mostly using a family iPad or their parents’ devices.

The program stresses digital safety: Staff members encourage kids not to use their real names online. At the beginning of camp, they come up with a pseudonym channel name under which they create all their videos, which are not posted publicly. Ultimately, parents must decide whether to allow their kids to maintain their own public social media presence.

The camp also emphasizes the importance of creating videos for fun and creative expression, not for money. But many kids said they were keenly interested in the economic opportunities of being a YouTuber.

“I love YouTube, and I want to be famous on YouTube, because I want a lot of money,” said camper Chloe, 7, a second-grader who said she has dreamed of being a YouTuber since age 4.

As a YouTube star, “I could buy whatever I want,” she added, including “an iPhone and a computer, AirPods and a Barbie Dreamhouse. A real Barbie Dreamhouse, that’s big and has walls. It would be in Paris because of the Eiffel Tower. I would go see the Eiffel Tower every day, and I’d have my room in front of the Eiffel Tower every morning and make videos about that.”

Colin, the 9-year-old, said he knows that growing a YouTube channel is hard work. But as long as you create enough content, you’ll be successful, he said: “YouTube is a good path to getting rich because once you upload a ton of videos, that’s when you start getting likes and money.”

One of Colin’s ideas is to buy the world’s biggest 3D printer and make a video 3D-printing houses for everyone in Mexico. It’s a stunt that would be right at home on the YouTube channel created by MrBeast — real name, Jimmy Donaldson — a North Carolina creator known for his outrageous and often philanthropic exploits.

Nearly every camper interviewed said they watched Donaldson and another YouTuber known as Unspeakable, whose real name is Nathan Johnson Graham. Graham, who was born in Houston, creates content about the video game “Minecraft” and posts videos of impossible, over-the-top stunts and challenges.

Aside from dreams of wealth, many campers said they see YouTube as a way to gain confidence and social status.

“YouTube gets you to do things that you were never able to do before,” said Graham, the fourth-grader. “Let’s say you wanted to get over your fear of heights. If you have YouTube, that might give you more views, more subscribers, to do something high up. So it’s pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to do something you’d never want to do before.”

Sixth-grader Aliyah, 11, said she grew up watching family channels on YouTube. She aspires to be a YouTuber because she thinks her life will be more exciting and that she will be braver.

For now, she privately films herself with friends doing cooking challenges in her family’s kitchen. But when she starts her channel “for real,” she said, she plans to film herself on adventures such as ice skating and swimming deep in the ocean.

Many kids said they see YouTube fame as a way to escape social isolation. Aliyah, who said she has a hard time finding friends with similar interests, said that YouTube could help her meet and befriend like-minded people. “If I have more fans [online], then I actually feel better,” Aliyah said, “because I know they don’t hate me for who I am.”

Fifth-grader Sophia, 9, said that becoming successful on YouTube would lead to being bullied less and treated better at school.

“Being a YouTuber would make me more confident,” Sophia said. “Because if I had a hater, I would not care. My fans will say how I’m awesome.”

Whatever the emotional benefits of creating content and building an audience online, Morrison noted that the camp provides its charges with highly marketable skills. “If we can provide a space where we can guide them in a safe way on how to make videos, that’s a good thing,” he said. “It’s much better, if a kid is spending multiple hours a day on an iPad playing games or watching videos, if that kid actually learns to make videos and be creative themselves.”

Sarah Brown, a mother of two campers, said she enrolled her kids because she wants them to learn digital skills that typically are not taught in school. Brown, who has a podcast, said her family is “really into the creator economy.”

“We believe in entrepreneurship and creating something of value and putting it into the world, whether they do it for work or a creative outlet,” she added.

Some campers are already making plans to return next summer. By then, Chloe, the 7-year-old, said she hopes her father will let her have social media accounts of her own.

“I want to launch my channel now,” she said. “I want to see myself. It makes me happy.”

Reporting by Taylor Lorenz. Video by Sarah Hashemi and Hadley Green.

Design and development by Emma Kumer. Design editing by Chloe Meister. Photo editing and research by Monique Woo.

Editing by Mark Seibel and Wendy Galietta. Additional editing by Wayne Lockwood and Emily Morman. Additional support by Megan Bridgman, Maite Fernandez, Kyley Schultz, Brandon Carter and Jordan Melendrez.

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