Children aren’t watching TV like they used to. Surprise eggs, toy reviews, nursery rhymes and Lego building, YouTube is changing when and what children watch, even if these new formats are sometimes confusing for people outside their target audiences. Yes, I mean us, the parents.
There is much more to YouTube than music videos; it is becoming such an encyclopedia of content that almost anything and everything can be found on it, whether it’s DIY tips, product reviews, tutorials, comedy skits and motivational talks, and there’s no denying YouTube’s popularity among the younger generation.
Despite having the best of intentions to screen what my kids, ages 10 and four, are watching on YouTube, I often have to tune out when I hear the Little Finger song or that high-pitched scream from Unspeakable as he goes in search of the Minecraft chicken. I still don’t get the appeal of watching Blippi run around a playground or Wendy’s McDonald’s adventures.
YouTube generates an average of one billion views globally each month and while it does not say how many of these viewers are children, it’s safe to bet that it’s already the biggest children’s entertainment platform in the world.
Gone are the days of watching Care Bears, Smurfs or The Muppets on TV. Today’s children are eager to watch strange adults and other children online play with toys they don’t have access to. Plenty of popular children’s TV shows are now on YouTube in some form. Even Netflix is commissioning similar shows.
YouTube habits of US children
My son’s goal is to be a YouTube star like Kwebbelkop (10 million subscribers and a net worth of $3.5 million). My daughter learnt about washing her hands thanks to ChuChuTV, something I was trying to do for months.
I was sent a link a while ago to a research paper from Pew on the YouTube viewing habits of American children. The results said 81% of parents with kids 11 or younger said they let their children watch videos on YouTube. If we conducted this research anywhere in the world I am certain the results would be similar.
If we think about it, most children have access to their parents’ smartphones, computers or even their own devices, giving them control over what they watch and when. YouTube channels specifically devoted to unboxing toys are particularly popular.
Take Ryan’s Toy Reviews for example, with its 18 million subscribers. This little boy and his family make $22 million a year from reviewing anything and everything, and the video production leaves a lot to be desired.
Videos aimed at children make up some of the most watched videos on the platform. What’s interesting to note is that kids are not just watching kids. My son is a loyal viewer of the Dobre Brothers. With 6.4 million subscribers, the Dobre Brothers is a YouTube channel that features four American brothers named Cyrus, Darius, Lucas and Marcus. They have an estimated net worth of $3 million. Their content is mainly composed of easygoing vlogs, pranks, music, gymnastics, dance and any other entertaining content.
Not frying their brains
My daughter enjoys Come Play with Me, a channel with more than five million subscribers. It is a kid friendly doll parody channel run by adults featuring videos of the Frozen characters, Barbie, and the rest of the Disney clan.
Most of these channels can be described as things your kids would do with their own toys and a little imagination.
In its terms of service, YouTube states it is only intended for people over 13 and also points to YouTube Kids, but views from the app are low in comparison to the main platform.
I agree parody and unauthorised online children’s content is an issue and while I understand the call for limited screen time and even the numerous studies that keep popping up that children should be outside playing and not watching videos, let’s not completely write-off YouTube.
While watching other people act out Barbie or Elsa plots or grown men playing Fortnite and chewing gum seems like a pretty weird pastime for the next generation of kids, it’s probably not frying their brains completely. It won’t necessarily ruin your child’s development to let them entertain themselves with this kind of content.
Charis Apelgren-Coleman is the head of digital content at Kagiso Media. She has worked with small and large local organisations as well as large multinational organisations, while managing specialist content teams.
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