I’ve recently watched an amazing film Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things by The Minimalists and it made me face the truth that I think I’ve known all along – my child’s excessive consumerist tendencies (specifically asking for new toys non stop) are my own making and I identified the source of his constant craving that’s driving me up the wall and the family budget into the red.
YouTube Kids. The silent and free nanny that many of us, parents, resort to now and then. The huge trove of user generated content that is mostly regurgitation of good content from other platforms.
I noticed that my little one has been watching the same sort of videos – toy unboxing, silly toy mash ups (eg Peppa Pig meets a Spiderman), game walk throughs (eg Ethan Gamer TV or Stumpy) and badly created 3D cartoon characters (eg Spiderman or Elsa) aimlessly running around and wrecking havoc (I reported a few of these videos as they appear violent).
This type of videos I concluded, this constant exposure to consumption, product placement effectively on an already advertising platform is what leads to excessive consumerism in my child and to what Joshua Becker (quoted by me here loosely) in Minimalism: A Documentary describes as ‘these days you hear ‘I want it’ more than ‘I love you’ in family households’.
As if it were not enough, it looks like recently YouTube have overcome their initial reservations about advertising to kids and unleashed their advertising machine full speed. My little one is now exposed to several ads during a piece of content, often unskippable.
He gets exposed to advertising on top of what already is product placement and this multiplies the effect. Is it any surprise that my poor baby emerges with incessant thirst for stuff? That he looks at boys like Leo Kim or Ryan (from Toys Review), compares and concludes that unless he has every new toy in the world and his mommy and daddy gift him mountains of toys (literally) on a regular basis (because they make advertising dollars out of their children’s videos), then he can’t truly be happy? Is this really what we want for our children?
Ad free Youtube is not a solution because it’s the nature of content, not ads, that’s the problem. And let’s be honest, Youtube Kids content is quite poorly made – it’s mostly user generated stuff and often a poorly made rehash of something else. Also I already have subscriptions to Netflix and Amazon Prime which have good quality kids content that entertains, educates and develops, not drives them to the toy shop to spend parents’ money.
Minimalism it is. I uninstalled Youtube Kids and will not bring it back until my son is older. Research shows that kids only grasp nature of advertising after they are 12. I’d say even 12 is too young.
We already feel lighter and more at peace as a family. Daily requests for toys have gone. Instead we are enjoying more quality time together and lesser pressure on the family budget.
YouTube has over a billion users and every day, people watch hundreds of millions of hours of YouTube videos and generate billions of views. YouTube overall, and even YouTube on mobile alone, reaches more 18-34 and 18-49 year-olds than any cable network in the U.S. (source). With this reach and top channels aimed at kids (here), YouTube has effectively become a broadcaster which means they should have certain responsibilities. How much they advertise to kids, what content they feature, how they protect kids from violent content and most importantly what values their content instils and what it teaches kids – if YouTube don’t self regulate, someone else should.
In the meantime, as a parent, unlike the conclusion this author makes, you have another choice – uninstall the damn app. The power of making your child happier is in your hands – let minimalism be your guide.