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Do You Know What Your Children Are Watching on YouTube?

February 16, 2021 • Our Blog • General Health
Many families are increasing their screen time in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. That doesn’t have to be a problem — but it depends on what children are watching. A lot has changed over the past year. Now, with the weather getting colder and COVID-19 continuing to make many of the activities that once occupied our children’s time relatively obsolete, it’s understandable that many parents are loosening their screen time restrictions and letting kids consume more online content than they usually would. While letting your kids spend more time on screens doesn’t have to be an issue, it can be.

Problems with the Content Kids Are Watching on YouTube

With young children spending more time than ever on YouTube (in fact, it is now the most popular viewing platform for children 8 and under), now is a good time to evaluate what kind of content they are engaging with. A new study by Michigan Medicine C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and non-profit organization Common Sense Media did just that, looking at the YouTube viewing patterns for children aged 8 in March and April of 2020.  The study found that while there’s a lot of potential for YouTube to offer diverse perspectives, positive role models, and creative ideas to its young viewers, these kinds of videos rarely appear in children’s viewing histories. Instead, they found that the content children watched was rarely educational, and often encountered three major issues: ads, violence, and entertainment. Ads: The study found that 95% of early childhood videos contained advertising, and a third of those videos contained 3 or more ads. Not only did the design of these ads often block potential educational content, the ads themselves often contained content that was not age appropriate (ads promoting or using violence, sexual content, alcohol or drugs, and politics). Even when the videos themselves were age appropriate, inappropriate ads still appeared 9-22% of the time. Violence: According to the study, 27% of the videos children watched were not age appropriate. Physical violence was the most prevalent type of inappropriate content, with 30% of all videos containing at least mild physical violence. Interpersonal violence, like bullying and manipulative behavior, was present in 20% of videos, and mild to moderate sexual content were present in 6% of videos. Not only do kids often copy the aggressive behavior they see, watching YouTubers act mean and manipulative can informally teach children that this behavior is normal.  Entertainment: While YouTube does have videos with highly educational content, only 4% of the videos that children watched in the study gained that categorization. The study found that, instead, the vast majority of children are watching entertainment. Even the videos that were classified as educational (almost a quarter of the total) only touched on basic educational concepts, with the rest of the video filled with toys or vicarious experiences. Some of the most popular videos children watched were toy unboxing or toy play videos where you watch someone else unwrap or play with a toy. “Let’s Play” videos, where you watch a gamer play games like Minecraft or Fortnite, were also very popular. All of these promote merchandise to children and the latter, in particular, often contain rude language and age inappropriate ads. 

Tips for Reducing Children’s Exposure to Problematic Content

The plain fact is that YouTube is a site that incentivizes grabbing and maintaining people’s attention. The result is that kids are watching videos full of toys, candy, and vicarious experiences that are designed to be engaging rather than educational. If parents want to reduce their children’s exposure to this kind of content, they need to act as gatekeepers. That means searching for the quality videos on YouTube, even if they’re buried deep down. Try exploring DIY videos that offer simple instruction on art, crafts, music, and other activities that are easy to follow along. You can also look for content from well-researched educational creators, like Sesame Street and PBS KIDS, who post their videos on YouTube.  It’s also a good idea to use the YouTube Kids app (instead of regular YouTube) to manage your child’s exposure to potentially age inappropriate content. You can even use blocks and parental controls, like time limits, to control how much time your child is able to spend on YouTube.

Getting Support from Kids’ Health

At Kids’ Health, we’re committed to your child’s mental and physical well being alike. A leading pediatric clinic serving the Beverly, Massachusetts area, Kids’ Health takes a comprehensive approach to healthcare to help your kids feel their best. That includes looking at what your kids are watching and ensuring it’s good for their minds. Call us or reach out online to schedule an in-person or telehealth appointment today....