Why Kids Watch the Strangest Things on YouTube

Why do kids choose such strange videos on YouTube, like unboxing videos, movies of people playing Minecraft, or clips of YouTube celebrities shopping?

Admittedly, I’m not the best at consistently limiting screen time. Like much of my parenting, my paranoia about how bad it actually is ebbs and flows with the rising tides of articles that appear in my newsfeeds.

But I’m not ashamed to admit that sometimes a babysitter is unavailable and I let the iPad watch my kids. (Wait, that’s backwards.)

Each time I start them on something “not so bad” — like episodes of Octonauts — they inevitably end up down the rabbit hole of kids opening and reviewing toys, kids performing weird food challenges or playing video games, or reality “shows” with wacky families doing wacky things.

Some of my kids’ favorites include: Hobby Kids TV, EvanTube HD, Sidewalk Cops and FGTeev (pronounced Tee Vee, get it?). These YouTube stars wander through Target, waste copious amounts of food and they are the only people on earth who actually make money shopping at Target.

At first I wondered how on earth my kids found these videos. Then I saw the number of times people have viewed them — millions! Then I panicked a little: how long have my kids been watching this on their iPads? How many of those views are from my two watching the same thing over and over and over again. (Because what’s more fun than watching another kid open toys? Watching the same kid open the same toy again and again.)

I kept their viewing habits secret for awhile; saddened they inherited my proclivity towards terrible television. I was convinced my kids were single handedly making these families YouTube celebrities. (Because honestly, that many people can’t really be watching. Can they?)

I’m not sure when or how I first came to the realization that it wasn’t just my kids who watched strange things, but it was a glorious time (for me). The walls of our secret YouTube fortress of dreadful videos came crashing down and I was left with the oddly satisfying truth that there are in fact, millions of other kids attracted to this kind of “programming.”

Now I’m left wondering why on earth, do kids actively choose this garbage? These are the best answers I can come up with:  

1 | It’s the toddler/kid version of Real Housewives – their little 6 year old guilty pleasure.

Maybe because they know it soooo bad but still so good, they can’t not watch, like your favourite really bad reality show. For reasons unknown to even the most gifted social scientists, reality shows still manage to fascinate us (or hypnotize us). They’re curiously addicting. You don’t want to; you have to.

2 | In a strange role reversal, kids are just trying to teach themselves about greed and gratitude.

Seriously, what do they do with all those toys after they open them? And the food that Evan and his sister Jillian waste dumping over each others’ heads?! Drives me crazy. Drives my kids to tears of laughter. Also, makes me seem like an uptight, fun-killing, Mom: “no, kids, you can’t dump chocolate sauce, tomato ketchup, tuna fish and rice krispies over your heads. Not today, tomorrow or in 7 years. But, hey, who wants to practice their writing!?” Equally puzzling to me: my kids have never asked, suggested or wistfully wished they could open hundreds of toys on camera for no good reason. So maybe, these shows are educational.

(For the record, I can be fun! “You can watch other kids open toys for at least 30 minutes!”)

3 | It’s just part of the sad truth that machines are taking over humanity.

It’s no longer fodder for science-fiction. YouTube seems to operate as does Facebook, always trying to guess what you want to see. You watched a video of this kid playing video games? Here are these 10 others just like it! Wow, you really like Hobby Kids. Here are 25 other videos of them you’ve probably already seen. Slowly you forget what you actually want to see, the machine takes over and all of humanity is screwed. Sarah Connors where are you?!

4 | Did you know there is some high pitched frequency only kids can hear?

It’s true. (In another life, I was a high school teacher and the class clowns loved to play the tone, watch while their friends recoiled while I remained blissfully unaware.) I think YouTube must operate in a similar manner. What our kids see and hear is not what we are seeing and hearing. It’s like an alternate frequency that only kids can decipher. A glitch in the matrix. A sixth sense. (The shows they are actually watching are gold – like Oscar-worthy gold!)

That’s it. There are only four possible reasons I can come up with for this conundrum. But whatever the reason, I leave you with one possible silver lining: at least it’s not Calliou!