When YouTuber MrBeast found out that half of the world’s blind population could see again with a simple, 10-minute surgery — one that many can’t afford — the viral philanthropist, known for producing fast-paced videos involving big-time giveaways, decided to give 1,000 people their eyesight back. The resulting video documenting their reactions has racked up 140 million views and counting since being posted in late January 2023.
Videos like this have helped the content creator find an audience with young fans, including Cindy Marie Jenkins’s two kids, ages 6 and 9.
“My kids laugh a lot at watching how long four strangers can stay in a pool of water, but they also want to know why people cry when he gives them thousands of dollars and why schools need celebrities to give away trucks full of school supplies and set teachers loose in a Walmart for a shopping spree,” Jenkins tells Yahoo Life.
The Orlando-based mom says MrBeast’s philanthropic projects have led to some powerful conversations about money — “how people get it, how he got it, how much he has, how much other people and we have, and the wealth disparities in our community and country” — with her children. But the YouTube personality’s popularity and large-scale stunts have also raised eyebrows and sparked questions about his charitable intentions. Here’s what parents should know.
Who is MrBeast?
Jimmy Donaldson, better known as MrBeast, is a 25-year-old YouTuber known for his philanthropic stunts with a net worth estimated at over $105 million. Growing up in Greenville, N.C., he uploaded his first video to YouTube in 2012 at age 13. Although he didn’t have instant success online, he sought to master the YouTube algorithm and secure fame and followers, even dropping out of college after two weeks to commit to his YouTube channel. Eventually, success came, and he currently boasts more than 153 YouTube subscribers.
In 2017 his channel went viral while he filmed himself counting to 100,000, a challenge that lasted 44 hours. Known for many viral charitable acts — including adopting every dog in a shelter or donating meals to people in need — Donaldson created his own YouTube philanthropy channel, Beast Philanthropy, which gives 100% of its revenue to charitable purposes. Donaldson may also be well on his way to reach YouTube billionaire status in the future, according to Forbes.
He teaches kids to give back — but has faced criticism, too.
By watching MrBeast videos, kids are exposed to stories of people in need, and presented with a happy ending as the YouTuber swoops in. Media psychologist Pamela Rutledge says his generosity is one of the main reasons kids like him.
“MrBeast gives away large amounts of money and prizes,” she says. “This appeals because it creates the excitement of potentially winning something, whether realistic or not. Generosity is also a valued social norm, so it makes liking MrBeast more acceptable. MrBeast stands out due to the large amounts of money and prizes that make up his philanthropic endeavors, collaborations with others and unusual challenges.”
But there’s still a financial motivation to this altruism. Rutledge points out that, like any other YouTuber, “MrBeast succeeds and funds his video activities by getting views and followers.” The more outrageous a video, the more potential it has to go viral, with clicks translating into dollars that can fund the next challenge.
“There have been questions raised about the appropriateness of benefiting from the disadvantages of others to get attention,” Rutledge adds, noting that some critics have accused the content creator of being “exploitative and even wasteful” by using “large amounts of resources for little social impact.” In March, Donaldson was commended by many for giving away thousands of shoes to children in South Africa, though some said he was benefiting from his charitable acts.
He stands up to transphobia.
In April, YouTuber Chris Tyson, Donaldson’s childhood friend who appears on the MrBeast channel, announced that they identified as gender nonconforming and had begun hormone replacement therapy as part of their gender transition process. When that announcement was met with transphobic comments, Donaldson pushed back and reaffirmed his friendship with Tyson.
As a mom of two boys aged 7 and 10 and a fellow YouTube creator, Dana Bowling wasn’t fazed by the news. “Kids these days are exposed to all kinds of gender and sexual identities so if anything, it just shows them that all people of all walks of life should be accepted,” the Daily Dose of Dana podcaster tells Yahoo Life. “I would never tell my kids not to watch MrBeast for this reason. Open dialogue with your children is important.”
Jenkins agrees. “Most of my positive feelings about him come straight from his upfront nature in interviews and how vocal he has been about supporting his friend and editor Chris,” she says. “His voice will make a difference to his fans who are on the fence about gender identity themselves or want to support their friends.”
He knows how to connect with audiences.
What’s the secret sauce behind YouTubers who can keep kids and adults alike glued for video after video? Rutledge points to his use of “parasocial connections.”
“MrBeast creates emotional engagement by promoting his personality as an exciting, relatable, authentic, down-to-earth person,” she explains. “Parasocial connections are where people can feel emotionally connected to media figures through the frequency of viewing and celebrity appeal, creating a one-sided but meaningful sense of relationship.”
She adds that YouTube celebrities like MrBeast enhances the sense of presence and emotional connection by looking directly at the camera and talking to the audience. “Kids can feel like they know him personally, which turns him into a ‘friend,’ enhancing his influence.”
Here’s how parents can help their kids understand and contextualize MrBeast.
Like any media, it’s essential for parents to keep an open conversation and increased awareness about what their kids are watching, and the subsequent thoughts, feelings and questions that might pop up after a MrBeast bender.
Dr. Carl D. Marci, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, a faculty member at Harvard Medical School and the author of Rewired: Protecting Your Brain in the Digital Age, says that, as with all things online, parents need to be “clear-eyed” about MrBeast.
“On the one hand, compared with other stars that simply play video games or are famous for putting others down or opening boxes, MrBeast offers valuable lessons about helping those in need and a game-show version of generosity,” he says. As a dad who was tuned in with his own kids, ages 7 and 10, however, he has found the YouTuber and his friends to sometimes be “crude.” And as with other YouTubers, he worries that “the implicit message to young people is that fame and fortune are all that matter.”
Marci also finds MrBeast’s style of philanthropy to be too narrow. “This form of generosity needs to be put into context, and children need to see other forms of philanthropy [like] showing empathy for others or volunteering to work for nonprofits with a clear mission to help those in need,” he says.
At the same time, Marci recognizes that kids aren’t necessarily thinking through the full ramifications when they’re glued to a screen. As a father, he takes pain to monitor the content and watch along with his kids so he can “point out the difference between acts that are virtuous and acts that are frivolous.” For his kids, he notes, “it is all just fun and games.”
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