Parents' Ultimate Guide to Livestreaming

Whether it's a shared moment between friends, or a public feed with millions of followers, livestreaming entertains and enlightens with on-the-fly video that's not always age-appropriate. By Caroline Knorr
Parents' Ultimate Guide to Livestreaming

Video clips? That's old school. Today, it's all about livestreaming -- capturing or watching video of an event as it's happening.

Kids love livestreaming because it fully conveys the thrill of a moment, such as skateboarders doing tricks at the park or a gamer playing Fortnite. Livestreaming offers unscripted, authentic, and spontaneous action -- and it's the closest thing to hanging out in person. Also, because livestreaming lets viewers and broadcasters interact in real time, it makes a virtual experience personal and intimate.

While livestreaming taps into teens' natural desire to connect, relate, and belong, there are some questionable motivations and potential risks, such as chasing fame, oversharing, and even breaking the law in pursuit of the most awesome video, that parents need to be aware of and help kids manage. The technology has been used to stream suicides and crimes, so it's very possible to see horrifying things because live video is so difficult to moderate.

While most kids livestream casually -- and privately -- with friends, many apps offer the option to "go live." In other words, all it takes is one tap to broadcast yourself live on the internet. However, livestreaming can be used safely with parents' guidance, so it’s important to be aware of how it works, how your kids use it, and what could go wrong -- whether kids turn the camera on themselves, view others’ streams, or wind up as an "extra" on someone else's feed.

What is livestreaming?
What are the most popular livestreaming apps?

Who are the most popular livestreamers?
How does livestreaming work?
Is livestreaming safe for kids?
How much does it cost to watch livestreams?
What rules should I set if my kid wants to livestream?

What is livestreaming?

Livestreaming is a technology that lets you watch, create, and share video in real time. It's similar to a live TV broadcast, except it's done with a phone and an app instead of a camera and microphone. And instead of a pre-scouted, controlled location, livestreams tend to happen wherever kids are: a bedroom, a concert, even classrooms. Livestreaming also borrows from the world of video chat. FaceTime and the popular group-chatting app ooVoo, for example, enable livestreaming.

Livestreams can be public or private. While some internet-famous folks livestream on public channels, most tweens and teens livestream fun stuff -- like their cat walking from room to room -- just for the people who follow them on social media. (Depending on the platform, a livestream that isn’t viewed at the time it's uploaded is available as a recording for a certain amount of time.)

Lots of apps that are popular with tweens and teens, including musical.ly, Snapchat, and Instagram, offer the ability to livestream as one feature among many. Users can choose to go live as easily as they can upload photos and status updates.

Apps such as Twitch and YouTube provide a platform for more serious internet creators who livestream for a dedicated audience (and to make money). Hosts can broadcast live and either tell their followers to tune in at a specific time for a live show or record it to be watched by fans later. Let's Play videos -- where gamers broadcast themselves playing video games -- constitute one of the most popular livestreaming categories, with over 600 million total viewers in 2017 and 25,000 streamers on Twitch alone. Other popular livestreams include: musical performances by acts both famous and not; news and interviews from both professional and amateur sources; sports events; and even people who record their daily lives for avid fans.

A common element of all livestreams is that they are interactive. During a livestream, the audience can comment and the host can respond. And, of course, livestreams can get "liked" -- or not -- by friends. Some livestreaming platforms allow viewers to send the host money, gifts, and other expressions of appreciation.

What are the most popular livestreaming apps?

Aside from the built-in live features of social media giants like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, the biggest names in livestreaming are Periscope, YouNow, and musical.ly. Each of these platforms has spawned its own unique celebrities, and each has a dedicated fan base of tweens and teens who follow them.

With broadcasters ranging from musicians, artists, and other creative types to those who simply talk into their cameras, these apps provide a huge range of content that users can engage with. And if your kid is into gaming, chances are they're spending time on Twitch and Mixer, where they can watch livestreams of popular gaming personalities, or just regular people take on the challenges of their favorite video games -- Fortnite, anyone? But be aware that not all livestream apps are created equal. Age restrictions, guidelines for inappropriate content, privacy settings, interactive chat options, and subscription fees all vary from platform to platform, so make sure you and your kid understand both the fun features and potential risks of these entertaining apps.

Who are the most popular livestreamers?

Jacob Sartorius. Hailed as the second coming of Justin Bieber, this 15-year-old livestreaming star got his start on YouNow but rose to fame on musical.ly, where he now has nearly 20 million fans. He has reached similar heights on other platforms such as YouTube and Instagram and has officially launched a career releasing his own original music, most of which references social media activity and texting his latest crush. Even if your kid isn’t watching his livestreams, they've probably heard his catchy (if generic) pop tunes.

MerrellTwins. Identical twins Veronica and Vanessa Merrell are Renaissance women of digital media -- they’re singers, songwriters, actors (you may have seen them on the hit CW show Jane the Virgin), designers of their own fashion label, and producers of some of the savviest live content out there. Despite their 1.4 million followers on YouNow, the duo mainly stream on a YouTube channel completely dedicated to live broadcasting, where they run new, hour-long segments every Thursday. These streams have a higher production value and offer more variety than the average YouNow broadcast, and they showcase the sisters' many talents and quirks.

Ninja. With hundreds of millions of channel views, Ninja -- the screen name of 27-year-old gamer Tyler Blevins -- is the most popular user on Twitch, where he is known for streaming himself playing Fortnite and Halo. Ninja's gaming empire has expanded to YouTube and Twitter in particular, where he posts clips of his gameplay and collaborations with other streamers. If you're looking to steer your young gamer toward a more appropriate and less obnoxious alternative to the likes of PewDiePie, Ninja is your best bet.

Honorable mention

MaysoSings. While he might not have the record-breaking follower stats boasted by many livestreaming celebrities, MaysoSings holds one of the top spots on YouNow's Editor's Choice leaderboard list. As his username suggests, Mayso broadcasts himself singing covers of popular songs and requests from his fans, sometimes for hours at a time. As simple (and perhaps boring) as it sounds, Mayso's impressive vocals and his commitment to positivity, self-expression, and just having fun set him apart from the rest of the crowd and keep viewers coming back for more.

How does livestreaming work?

To create a livestream, you first have to register to use a service, such as Facebook or Instagram, and create a profile. Then, at the point where you would otherwise post your status, you just turn on the livestreaming feature (which is usually just a tap), aim the camera at yourself, and do your thing. Unless your profile is public, your livestream will only be viewable by your followers. Whatever you stream is usually also recorded, so your friends can view your livestream later; they don’t need to be watching your feed at the exact time you’re broadcasting. Apps like Snapchat and Instagram will save your stream for 24 hours. Facebook will keep it as part of your feed forever.

To view a public livestream, you don't need to register on the broadcasting platform. YouTube, Twitch, and Periscope all offer freely available livestreams.

Is livestreaming safe for kids?

It really depends. Because it's live, anything can happen. There's bad language, hate speech, sex, violence, and even physical harm. People who do livestreams for a large audience have every incentive to make their content as attention-getting as possible to stand out from the crowd and gain more followers. Some livestream apps such as BigO Live allow livestreamers to receive money from their viewers, which can encourage the host to perform ever-more-outrageous scenes to satisfy their audience. Livestreamers have been known to record outrageous and risky stunts where the participants get hurt or even killed.

While there are definitely risks to watching this kind of age-inappropriate content, it’s also risky for kids who are interested in doing livestreams themselves. The combination of inexperience and the quest for internet fame could lead kids to create situations that put themselves and others in danger or expose things that should be private. While some apps delete videos after 24 hours, some keep them up forever -- and they can also be recorded by other users -- so something that seemed fun and harmless in the moment could haunt your kid for a long time.

How much does it cost to watch livestreams?

The vast majority of livestreams are free. Creators make money through advertising, sponsorships, and other methods. Some livestreamers accept money and gifts from followers, so watch out: Your kids might want to contribute to their favorite livestreamer’s coffers. The parent companies of the big livestream platforms (Amazon, which owns Twitch and Google, which owns YouTube) offer subscription services where you get additional content that's ad-free for a monthly fee.

What rules should I set if my kid wants to livestream?

  • Draw boundaries around where and when it's appropriate to livestream. Some kids broadcast from their bedrooms because that's where they can get some privacy. But it's risky because bedrooms are also very intimate and personal -- and not everyone who views your livestream is a friend. (There are adults livestreams geared for sexual transactions, and you want your kid to avoid any location that may give the audience the wrong idea.) A few places to consider making off-limits: their bedroom; your bedroom; other kid's houses; and any location that reveals personally identifiable information such as their school name, your home address, or your street sign. Certain times, such as during the school day, are definitely not OK. (Check out these tips for kids who want to start their own YouTube channel.)
  • Get permission from people you want to include in your livestream. Livestreaming is so common, plenty of kids expect to do it at parties, concerts, and other gatherings. But everyone is entitled to their privacy, and it's respectful to ask other kids if they're OK with being in a livestream. If the livestream is going up on any social media, it'll cause fewer problems later if everyone in the video has given consent.
  • Use good judgment. Discuss specific scenarios where kids should put away their phones, such as: when people are in need of help, and potentially illegal or super-inappropriate situations (for example, anything involving a dead body). Also, people tend to swear a lot on livestreams; try to encourage your kid to keep language fairly clean, especially for anything publicly available. Teachers, potential employers, college admissions counselors, and others folks your kid may want to impress someday look at social media for incriminating posts.
  • Dress appropriately. Some kids are so intent on livestreaming -- or are so accustomed to it -- they forget to wear proper clothing. Bare feet are OK, but they should avoid anything revealing, personally identifiable, or crude (again: Think future employers).
  • Pursue your passion. It might be a little difficult to relate if your kid is super into livestreaming. But if you sense that livestreaming is a positive outlet for them -- for example, if it connects them with people who share their interests, or if they use it for self-expression, or if they simply love recording, editing, and marketing their videos -- be supportive. The most important thing is to encourage them to do it for the "right" reasons. Make sure it's something they love and that they're not doing it for other people. Their chances of livestreaming safely and responsibly goes up a lot with you in the picture.
Samara Meyer contributed to this article.

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About Caroline Knorr

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As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for…?"... Read more

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Comments (1)

Adult written by JuliaMo

Today it's very hard to control online life of your children, but we must pay attention to what kind of content and video they are watching and sharing. You can't be sure if it is a related web site for study task or something that's not always age-appropriate... Thank you for this useful article!

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