My kids rarely watch TV. They get their entertainment from YouTube, and they aren’t the only ones. Dubbed The YouTube Generation, one estimate puts them in league with over one hundred trillion other young people who feel the same way.
On a family trip to Cedar Point Amusement Park this summer, the park broadcasted YouTube compilations to entertain people who were waiting in line for rides. This was my view of YouTube—funny fail videos and cat compilations.
I was wrong.
#1 YouTubers Aren’t Just Unknown Jokesters
They are the new celebrities, admired just as much as Hollywood stars by young people. In some ways, the self-made aspect of their success makes them more appealing.
And, in case you didn’t know, You Tube is making movies and other original content that competes with Netflix or Amazon Prime. Like all stars, kids look up to them and want to emulate their behavior.
Earlier this year, I happened to catch a brief news story about a YouTuber named Logan Paul who posted a video posing with a suicide victim. Logan Paul is 22. My youngest son is 10—so I was shocked to learn that my son not only knew who he was, but was a fan.That was when I started paying closer attention to what exactly he was watching.
Unlike with traditional celebrities, though, I’m unlikely to catch wind of YouTuber controversies through the traditional news sources I use. After Logan Paul, I started asking my kid who their favorites were, and I follow them on Instagram so I can get a glimpse into who these people are and what exactly their appeal is without having to watch every video they post.
#2 YouTuber and Gamer are Real Careers
At least as much as “Movie Star” or “Rock Star” are actual career paths. My friend taught ESL in an elementary school, and she confided to me that the kids all wanted to be YouTubers when they grew up, and she felt bad that “they didn’t even know that wasn’t a real career.” But she was wrong.
The likelihood of becoming a famous YouTuber and actually making money off of it may be small, but some people actually do it, and the kids know it. Not only are YouTubers paid for ad views, but also from selling merchandise and tickets to events to meet them in person.
My youngest son has asked for the same brand shoes as his favorite YouTuber wears. His favorite car is the same model the same YouTuber drives. I don’t know if this particular person is being paid for product placement, but many are.
When we tell kids that being a YouTuber (or gamer) is not a real thing, they roll their eyes, because they know we are wrong. And then they stop listening to everything else we say about YouTube, since they’ve already proven that we know less about it than they do.
#3 They Discover New Content Mainly Through Auto-Play and Recommendations From Friends
Many kids have phones now, and they are constantly showing each other the funniest/most amazing you tube clips. Even my Amish neighbor, who has no cell phone at all, was hip to the latest YouTube sensations from working on a construction site.
In other words, not having a phone is not protection.
#4 It’s Not All Doom-and-Gloom Though
Sometimes kids use YouTube to voluntarily learn things. YouTube has taught my kids how to:
- play the guitar
- solve a Rubik’s Cube
- play online games better
- improve pitching/batting
- put on makeup
- perform magic tricks
- ollie on a skateboard
It turns out that watching clips over and over may have quantitative value. Earlier this year the Wall Street Journal credited watching YouTube clips with improving basketball players’ performance.
#5 YouTube Videos are Laden with Advertising
I used to hang around the beginning of a video to help my child skip the commercial, then went back to whatever else I was doing. It’s no longer so simple.
Ads no longer play just at the beginning of the video. I was watching one of my son’s favorite YouTubers attempt a back flip, and just as his feet left the ground—at the pinnacle of tension—an ad starting playing.
In fact, in April 2018, Google came under fire for collecting data about kids in order to better advertise to them. And unless you pay for YouTube Premium, you can no longer skip ads. As my twelve-ear-old explained to me,
“If the video is ten minutes long, it will most likely have three ads in it.”
What are these ads for? Some content seems to be tailored to their interests specifically— but a lot of the ads are geared towards adults.
In the words of my 10-year-old, “this week, there’s a lot of Advil.” It seems that the same two or three ads run on any video they watch for about a week, then they change. The only frightening or questionable ads my kids have seen are a for movies, all PG-13 or R, which younger kids might find frightening.
#6 Content Filters Actually Do Work
As long as your kid doesn’t turn them off. I asked my 12-year-old—who actually does not want to see inappropriate content—how often the auto play or search feature returns an inappropriate video. “Never,” he told me, “as long as you enable restricted mode.”
However, I’m quite sure he has a savvy friend who knows how to subvert it if he really wanted to. My kids are not allowed to watch YouTube in their rooms or on their phones, although “everyone” watches clips on the school bus.
#7 If Your Kid’s in Elementary School or Older, They Most Likely Have at Least One Friend with a YouTube Channel.
Kids are posting videos both with and without the assistance of parents, so if you don’t want your kid on the internet, you might want to ask about it before dropping your kid off for a playdate.