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This video is one of the most watched clips on YouTube in the world. It’s an ‘unboxing’ video aimed directly at child viewers and it’s clocked up 400 million views! In fact this channel, featuring a pair of adult hands taking toys out of their box and playing with them regularly racks up 100 million views in a week and has been watched over 8 billion times since its launch.

YouTube is the new ‘TV’ for kids. Recent figures show that the majority of children now prefer to watch video on a handheld device rather than on TV. It seems that for kids, TV may soon be a thing of the past.

Why kids love YouTube

The reason for its popularity is that YouTube is like a personalised box of entertainment for kids. It offers a huge range of content; much more than TV could ever offer. There are channels like Disney Car Toys and Hobby Kids TV which are highly popular with younger children, to channels by Taylor Swift and PewDiePie for older children.

YouTube also offers kids viewing autonomy that a TV doesn’t offer.  They no longer need to be in their lounge room at 4:30pm to watch their favourite show; but can watch their videos anywhere and anytime. And a small device fits nicely in kid’s hands. They can walk around while viewing, pause and rapidly search other exciting content and don’t need to waste time sitting through TV commercials.

Parents worry about YouTube

While the site doesn’t permit sexual content, there are a lot of adult themes that concern parents. Swearing and violence are rampant. And videos with such themes are not always obvious. For example Happy Tree Friends looks like a cute animation for young kids but revolves around the characters enduring events of bloodshed, pain, dismemberment, and/or death. While this series is hugely popular, its content would be confronting and scary for a young child.

The new YouTube for kids

A new alternative to hit our screens is YouTube Kids, an app recently launched by Google. The app uses an algorithm to identify the child friendly videos on YouTube and places them together in the one place for kids. My colleague who is researching the app told me she tried keying in every possible ‘bad’ work she could think of into the search box and the app passed with flying colours. The app features many favourites of kids such as Peppa Pig and ABC kids. It also features sections, which are educational, and where children can listen to music and pursue other interests.

Child friendly content in a one-stop shop is a great move on the part of Google and they’re not alone in this move. Netflix, and mobile TV apps for kids such as PlayKids and Hopster, also offer a range of child friendly content.

What does child friendly mean?

The term child-friendly however doesn’t necessarily mean high quality. Think of a child’s play centre or even pre-school, it’s a great environment for kids but its never perfect. It’s the same for these child friendly apps. You still need to be vigilant to make sure your child watches content that is empowering. This is particularly important when the suggested videos list can lock your child into watching the same kind of content over and over. Some important things to consider:

  • Is your child always watching content sourced from the same culture and their outlook on life (eg always American videos) or is it varied?
  • Do the videos your child watches depict girls and boys only in traditional roles, or do they approach gender in a more empowering way?
  • Is your child consistently watching videos that are a form of advertising? Advertising can be a big issue, not so much on the site but its inherent in many videos. For example videos produced by brands such as McDonald’s and PlayDough arguably function as ads for their products and services. There are also the hugely popular ‘unboxing’ videos on YouTube, where toys are taken out of their boxes and showcased. These videos don’t present themselves as being sponsored but they are essentially a long ad for the product. There is a need to slowly help your child over time understand the purpose of these videos.

I spent many years as a writer and advisor for the kids’ TV program PlaySchool so I look at this new generation of online TV for kids with a critical eye. There’s a great range of creative, interesting shows on YouTube Kids and similar apps that complement the best available on traditional TV channels. However it’s up to us to guide children to ensure they watch a ‘healthy’ range of videos and also importantly leave lots of time to pursue other fun interests offline.

This article was originally published here at Kidspot Kids are turning off the TV and turning onto YouTube. Should we be worried?