Tech & Media
I’m Protecting My Kids From YouTube
By Glynis Ratcliffe
Photo © kate_sept2004/Getty Imagesa
May 28, 2019
When my oldest was around one, I discovered a few videos of Raffi performing live on YouTube. I grew up listening to Raffi and was eager to introduce her to his music, so I began playing her the videos. I’d sit her in her high chair, set my laptop on the dining room table and let his concerts play while I made dinner.
Sometimes, the video would end before I came back to turn it off, and I would find her giggling away to some strange animated show with kids dressed up as farm animals singing nursery rhymes. For a year, I indulged her and played videos from that particular channel, as well as Raffi. But when she started to head to my computer to watch on her own, unassisted, it was game over.
Now, they get to watch an occasional vintage superhero show with their dad (who doesn’t love Spider-Man from the '80s?) on YouTube, but that’s it. They have no idea about all of the kid-specific content you can access and I’m absolutely fine with that.
Growing up, I knew the songs of every commercial playing, whether it was for toys, cereal or junk food. I wanted it all, because I saw it all — every day. Commercials were impossible to avoid, and they introduced me to enticing new things I would then beg my parents for, ad nauseum.
Once streaming overtook live TV, Saturday morning cartoons became a thing of the past. Those hours when kids were held captive, unable to look away from all the fun shows and commercials, were replaced by easy-to-access, ad-free cartoons. My kids have never known the pain of waiting through three commercials before seeing the final scene of a show. This is miraculous to me.
It’s also a game-changer, speaking as the person now in charge of making decisions about what toys, food and treats are purchased for our household.
At this point, the majority of the content on YouTube is sponsored, which means you have to watch an ad at some point before or during the videos. I understand why this is necessary; the people who are commissioned by YouTube to make original content for this platform need to be paid somehow, what with the service still free for users. And that’s only the original content commissioned by YouTube — there are infinitely more content creators who are being paid solely through ad revenue, so avoiding commercials is virtually impossible.
Then, there are the unboxing videos. It’s hard to believe this is even a thing, but there are kids who make a lot of money unwrapping toys and trying them out. A lot of money. I don’t understand the appeal, really. We’re essentially talking about extended commercials that are even more enticing than normal ones, because your kids are watching real kids react in real time with these incredible toys — wow!!! Thanks, but no thanks.
Relevant Reading: How to Set Screen Time Rules That Work
Almost two years ago, YouTube Kids, the app which was supposed to be a safer and more curated version of the regular YouTube, was reported to lead to videos with disturbing and inappropriate content in just a few clicks of the recommended videos on the side bar. The company has since tightened up its algorithms to reduce these occurrences, but not all parents use YouTube Kids.
As parents, we like to convince ourselves that we have some semblance of control over our kids’ digital lives. We do, to a certain extent and for a limited amount of time. But, once they take over the reins and begin to navigate their way through the Wild West of the internet, control is just an illusion for parents. As for me, I’ll keep holding the reins for as long as I can.
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