If you have a teenager in your house you probably know about the latest digital trend. Teens – especially young women – are creating, watching and commenting on “My Morning Routine” videos.

A YouTube search returns about 1.6 million videos of (mostly) girls waking up, washing their faces, brushing their hair, petting their dogs… (yawn.) Millions of videos, celebrating nothing particularly interesting or surprising, many of them garnering well over a million views.  

We asked Mimi Ito, a cultural anthropologist and expert in young people’s use of digital media, about the craze.

Q: What sort of social learning happens when teenagers create and share YouTube videos?
A lot of peer-to-peer learning is really about young people connecting with others whom they feel a sense of affinity with. And we know that when kids connect [in that way] the learning is much more engaging, profound and resilient. In this case you’re seeing young women sharing something they live with every day. They’re curious about what other girls are doing. 

Q: Are young people today learning to adapt to a new kind of socializing?
I think young people have the opportunity to have a public identity much earlier, on a stage that never existed for them before. Morning routine videos might raise concerns about privacy but young people are also experimenting with public life in a lot of other ways where they may be anonymous. This is just one corner of a much broader trend of young people being able to participate in public spaces at an early age if they choose.

Q: Is there educational value in viewing something as seemingly ordinary as other people’s morning routines?
This gets back to affinity and identity. Things that may seem unimportant or trivial to some people are actually profoundly interesting to others. It all depends what matters to you. When camera phones first came out, I started snapping pictures of the lunches I packed for my kids, and people were really interested. With these user-generated-content sites, you don’t have to be an expert. You don’t have to publish something profound or super creative. But there’s a lot to be learned by how people manage the mundane details of their everyday lives. It’s really fascinating because it’s something we all confront every day. You’re not just getting the explicit content of what they’re doing, but you’re getting all that contextual information. This girl has a particular style, in a room that’s decorated a particular way. It’s not just about brushing hair. You’re getting to understand who this person is, and are you like her? Is she like you? It’s that context that is rich and also incredibly authentic.
Q: Do young people learn specific skills from online networks of friends and acquaintances?
The skills that kids develop by having public profiles online are incredibly important in a digitally networked age. It can be as simple as which details [to] disclose online, or how to deal with haters. There are a lot of norms about online behavior that are really important, not just for young people, but for all of us to learn how to navigate.

Q: Do you have any thoughts on why “My Morning Routine” has become such a popular theme on YouTube?
I think there has always been a genre of Internet video that is really focused on glimpses into every day, mundane life. We’re fascinated by that.

Q: “My Morning Routine” most often features teenage girls. Do boys and girls create and share online content differently?
Girls have always led on social media, whether it’s texting or Facebook, or back in the day, MySpace. Boys tend to lead on the more gaming-oriented media. I’m not surprised that “morning routine” features more girls than boys because of the content. The fact that girls are probably more thoughtful about their morning routines than boys – that’s not surprising.

Q: So, what’s part of your morning routine?
I pack my kids’ lunches still, even though they’re in high school. I used to pack cuter lunches when they were little. You know Japanese bento boxes? They’re a little more aesthetic. Now my daughter just wants her salad. My son gets a sandwich – it’s not as photogenic as it used to be. (See photos of Ito’s bento box lunches.)

-Sharon Henry, Calit2

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