Way back when, what did you want to be when you grew up? Police officer, veterinarian, ballet dancer? Some answers to this classic question are timeless, but according to new research the mix of childhood dreams is changing drastically over time. 

While lots of children in the age of the Space Race dreamed of becoming astronauts, kids today apparently dream of conquering the internet rather than the stars.

According to a new LEGO and Harris poll conducted to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, children were three times as likely to want to be a YouTube star than an astronaut. Only 11 percent of American 8-12 year said they wanted to work for NASA while 29 percent wanted to broadcast their life online. 

The worst job for mental health ever? 

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of grumpy old people shaking their fists at the tech habits of "kids these days," but to my eyes this is one finding that's downright terrifying. And not just because it bodes poorly for humanity's space-faring future. 

What scares me about this statistic is the Youtuber part. Sure, some young people make eye-popping amounts of money online, but there's plenty of evidence that being an online celebrity is one of the least mentally healthy careers out there. If the likes of Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride are paragons of resilience, the Casey Neistats and PewDiePies of the world continually go public with vlogging-related crackups.

That makes sense. Being a vlogger is a tough job for practical reasons. You're at the mercy of the Google algorithm and your fans, and you have to turn out tremendous amounts of content constantly. 

"The internet never sleeps, so often we don't really either," psychologist and YouTuber Kati Morton explained to Business Insider. "Working around the clock, we're not taking care of ourselves, no matter how much the reward. It can never add up to the amount of effort that we're putting in." 

Plus, there's the pressure of having to endure a hail of commentary and criticism from strangers. "Human brains really aren't designed to be interacting with hundreds of people every day," YouTuber Matt Lee pointed out to the UK Guardian

The results of that pressure can be painful, as Elle Mills, a YouTuber with more than a million subscribers, expressed in a video from last year entitled, "Burnt out at 19." "My life just changed so fast," she says. "My anxiety and depression keeps getting worse and worse. This is all I ever wanted, and why the f*** am I so unf***ing unhappy? It doesn't make any sense. It's so stupid. It is so stupid."

What type of person wants to be a vlogger in the first place? 

But the eventual costs of relentlessly packaging your life for consumption online might not even be the scariest aspect of the new survey results. Kids, after all, are probably too young to grasp these aspects of a job they idolize. What might be even scarier is what these ambitions suggest about our kids' values today. What kind of person wants to be a vlogger in the first place? 

Just as my Inc.com colleague John Rampton pointed out that research shows the least happy couples post the most on social media, it's generally true that people who seek validation online have some hole they're trying to fill in themselves. They're unsure of their self worth or inherent value and are trying to quiet that anxiety with likes and comments.  

Some YouTubers even acknowledge this truth. Chris Boutté, a vlogger who focuses on mental health, told Business Insider many in his line of work build their careers on a belief that more money and fame will make them happier

"If you could imagine looking for a treasure chest your entire life, and you finally find it and you open it up and there's nothing in it," he says. "What I often see is, when they get to that point, and it's not what they thought, they put all this pressure on themselves -- 'maybe I need to make more videos, maybe I need to make better videos,' because they keep trying to fill this happiness void."

That's not a pathology that's unique to YouTubers, of course, but when this outlook is coupled with the pressure and insecurity of the job, the mental health consequences can be grim. At a conference for YouTubers, one even joked, "I think every YouTube career should come with a coupon for a free therapist," the Guardian reports. 

It's only funny because it's true. Which is why we should all be concerned that so many American kids dream of vlogging fame. It's also why parents might want to start encouraging their kids to dream of space (or firefighting or computer programming or literally anything else) rather than subscribers. 

Published on: Aug 8, 2019
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