Teenagers are eager to learn. They’re highly capable of doing their own research and forming their own opinions. They have the power to create movements that fight the oppressive systems that have structured our world. Teens are also, perhaps, the most targeted demographic by social media designers.
According to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center, teenagers are more interested in YouTube than any other social media platform, with 85 percent of teens ages 13-17 saying they use the platform. At the time of this article, Instagram and Snapchat followed closely behind, but I would bet that today—in 2020—TikTok is closing in on these ranks.
University of Oxford doctoral candidate James Williams, whose research addresses the philosophy and ethics of attention and persuasion as it relates to technology design, says he doesn’t like using the term social media because that term suggests that it’s designed to promote social behaviors, when “usually it’s designed to promote the amount of attention that we’re giving it.” When teenagers (and adults) do give it attention, it’s nice to know they’re interacting with something positive and educational, which I think comes in different forms for different people.
Through my research, I’ve discovered a variety of YouTube channels that promote social and cultural awareness, physical fitness through yoga and dance, and expression through cooking, music, sustainability and art.
Here are 10 YouTube channels for young people to check out.
Pro Home Cooks is run by Brooklyn-based Mike Greenfield. His kitchen is relatively small but he gets creative with his use of space. He’s an approachable cooking YouTuber, tackling things like pizza, noodles, curries, homemade pop-tarts and fermented foods including bread. His work on sourdough is popular among his viewers—he made a sourdough guide for first-timers and a lot of us turned to him for sourdough help during the quarantine.
Emmanuel Acho is a former linebacker in the NFL, and he now works as an analyst on Fox 1 Sports. He recently created a YouTube channel called Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man which is an invaluable resource for people of all ages, but his kindness in creating this dialogue is perfect for white teenagers and even younger children. He frames his channel as a safe space to answer uncomfortable questions posed by his white friends about black people.
Each of Liziqi’s videos feels like a short film. She’s a Chinese blogger who moved to the countryside in the Sichuan Province of southwestern China to live with and take care of her grandparents. Her videos never show her speaking, but instead show her crafting an elaborate meal in a meditative style. It appears that she makes nearly all of her food from scratch, harvesting resources from the land around her, and showing her audiences who live in cities where their food comes from.
You might recognize Simone Giertz from her 2018 Ted Talk, Why You Should Make Useless Things, and that’s a good summary of her YouTube channel. It’s filled with her documentation of making robots. Don’t overlook these “useless” machines, because so many of them are delightful. For example, the Toothbrush Helmet: a helmet with a toothbrush attachment that will brush your teeth for you (sadly, not well). Her philosophy behind making these useless things is that it humanizes engineering and allows her to learn about hardware without feeling the pressure of performance anxiety.
Kassandra’s videos feature yin yoga and vinyasa flow classes for people with all experience levels. Kassandra, based in Ottawa, Canada, is always publishing new videos so the routines are refreshing, which is so important if you’re not able to get to a yoga studio during the pandemic. She puts out a variety of content in addition to yoga videos, guiding her audience in self-care, stretching and pose tutorials.
Kyle Haganami is a choreographer based in Los Angeles. He shares videos from his dance classes. The videos, which feature dancers of all ages, genders and identities, always make me want to have a dance party.
You may have heard of the NPR Music channel and their Tiny Desk series. If you like that, you may also enjoy COLORS, a music platform that focuses on promoting new artists and sounds. They film all of their videos in a studio filled with color, creating a unique setting for each video.
The School of Life reminds me of the many lessons students learn on an Outward Bound course. This channel is focused on educating viewers to live deeply meaningful and resilient lives. Their videos, which are published once a week, cover relationships, career help, emotional intelligence, social connections, and other things we don’t learn in school like How to Be a Good Friend. I found that the videos over at BBC Ideas fell into the group of sociological channels similar to The School of Life.
Manuela Baron’s channel The Girl Gone Green is all about educating others to be their best selves. Her content is perfect for teenagers who are interested in tracking their impact on the world. Most of her content surrounds sustainability and reducing personal waste output. With environmental themes, Baron incorporates lifestyle content like how to use One Item in Five Outfits, How to Travel Sustainably and Minimalist Gift Ideas.
Art Prof is an amazing resource for any person interested in art. This channel will be specifically helpful for teenagers interested in pursuing studies at art school or supporting themselves as an artist. The content includes tutorials that provide clear, easy to follow steps, videos for viewer questions answered by artists, designers, and art school professors, video prompts—and much more.
If you have more YouTube channel suggestions, please share them in the comments below!
About the Author
Olivia Schneider is a Logistics Coordinator at the Colorado Outward Bound School in Moab, Utah where she was previously the media intern. She is an alumnae of the Voyageur Outward Bound School, Hurricane Island Outward Bound School and has volunteered for the Philadelphia Outward Bound School. She loves dance parties, tennis, unplanned nourishing conversations, and being on a boat.
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