I’m not sure how it happened. I had read the headlines about kids becoming obsessed with YouTube, but made the classic mistake of thinking #notmychildren. My daughter had only ever been interested in TV shows. If she used the iPad it was to watch shows on iView, she never went on any other site.
But then my son discovered something on YouTube.
It started with him singing “share the love, peace”, with a hand signal that was half 'ridgy-didge', half sign of the horns (turns out it's actually universal sign language for 'I love you'). If you understand those words, you are currently residing in a similar hell to my own. If it means nothing to you, feel free to get a taste of this internet phenomenon on Stephen Sharer's Youtube channel.
But be warned. One - it’s an earworm on steroids, and two - don’t do it around your children if you want to escape the vortex of ‘The Sharers’ as this particular Youtuber's followers call themselves.
Why was it my younger child that hooked into YouTube?
My son has a fascination for the iPad that his sister never had at his age.
Even if we offer to put something from the iPad on the TV, he’s not interested. It’s all about the device.
According to Dr Kristy Goodwin, boys tend to be more attracted to this kind of viewing experience than girls.
Kristy is a children’s brain and technology expert. She says there is anecdotal evidence that boys are more susceptible to techno-tantrums than girls (as they try to expel their cortisol).
She also has her own theory about why boys are drawn to the internet more at a young age.
“The internet caters for their psychological vulnerabilities. They tend to be more impulsive and take more risks than girls, and the internet allows them to do this - search for silly things, play games, etc. Boys also have poorer impulse-control skills than girls and this is especially the case when their brains are flooded with dopamine - it literally hijacks the logical part of their brain.
“The novelty factor of YouTube is also appealing for boys - there’s always something interesting to look at or play. There’s also a sense of anticipation as they never know what the video will show, so their brains release adrenaline and there’s lots of anticipation ... which appeals to boys who love unpredictability.”
To hear more from Dr Kristy Goodwin listen to Kinderling Conversation:
Why has this shonky production captured his attention?
This YouTube channel that my son is in love with is difficult to watch, for a number of reasons. The over-enthusiastic American hosts are one. The terrible, shonky gags and tricks are another. And then there’s the Blair-Witch-Project-style of camera work, but without the thrills.
Kristy says that I’m looking at the YouTube channel through adult-coloured lenses.
“Whilst it’s a foreign form of entertainment for most adults, kids like the silly, playful scenes in these videos. The videos appeal to kids’ sense of humour and are an escape from reality - much like reality TV and other types of inane content we consume. The other reason for their appeal is that these videos don’t demand a whole lot of cognitive energy on the kids’ behalf, so they gravitate towards them - little effort gets maximum return.”
The American parenting website Commonsense Media adds to this, saying that the speed that these videos are uploaded is also attractive.
“This speed allows them to comment on news, pop culture, current events, and even video themselves on vacation or at the dentist's office. You may not see the appeal, but kids are all about being in the moment. Finally, many offer some type of expertise that kids are interested in.”
This is certainly true of The Sharers. My son talks about the hosts like they’re friends. And they play with nerf guns, fidget spinners and slime. Need I say more?
What do I do now?
Like most parents, I delight in seeing my children delighted. When he walks around singing “share the loooove, peace” with his little hand sign, he is adorable. There are worse messages he could be espousing.
But watching even 10 minutes of this stuff melts my brain. So how do I deal with this latest obsession?
Kristy says the important thing we need to teach our children is how to manage their viewing habits.
“We definitely need to teach them how to tame their tech habits - especially with YouTube - because our kids enter the ‘state of insufficiency’ when they use it, because they never get the sense of being complete or ‘done’... there’s always another episode, show or clip that’s appealing (and that’s no coincidence either - it’s based on Google algorithms targeting content to kids based on their viewing habits).”
Commonsense Media say parents need to grin and bear it, and urge them to stay engaged.
“Being aware that, to your kids, these YouTubers have something meaningful to offer - even if you don't particularly care for them - is step one. Stay involved by watching together when you can. Ask questions about the hosts your kids like, what subjects they cover, and most important, what these topics mean to your kids.”
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