The unfiltered truth about YouTube Kids

March 8, 2019

The unfiltered truth about YouTube Kids

There was a time during my journey as a parent when I believed things couldn’t ever get worse than Caillou.

Truth is, they can.

Caillou, that whiny Charlie Brown animated knockoff, is merely an annoyance compared to what truly is the Internet equivalent of feeding your children Frosted Flakes with chocolate milk and several spoonfuls of added sugar.

I’m talking about YouTube Kids.

I’m holding back no punches here:

I despise YouTube Kids for the empty calorie garbage it is.

The day’s coming soon when my boys are going to open up the family iPad one rainy Saturday morning to discover their beloved YouTube Kids app has disappeared and they’ll have to, you know, play with real toys.

Have you experienced YouTube Kids yet? If your answer is “no,” let this be a forewarning. Bypass it. I’d rather my children eat three bowls of chocolate-milk-soaked-sugar-coated Frosted Flakes than watch a minute of YouTube Kids.

At least they’ll get a smidgen of nutrition. Says so on the box. According to science, there’s a few vitamins and yummy folic acid in those flakes.

As for YouTube Kids, it’s the worst kind of brain rot.

The safeguards aren’t really safe

YouTube Kids is designed to be exactly what its name implies — a sort of wild west platform for professional and amateur video makers alike to create content, just like YouTube, except for children.

“We created YouTube Kids to make it simpler and safer for kids to explore the world through online video,” the makers proclaim on the Apple app store.

Sounds wonderful. Except as I write this, news is breaking about parents finding videos on YouTube Kids providing instructions on how to commit suicide.

Not the first time YouTube Kids has run into trouble, either.

A cellphone displaying its apps.
Photo by Rami Al-zayat on Unsplash

Not to worry, the makers of YouTube Kids promise us. “We use a mix of filters, user feedback and human reviewers to keep the videos in YouTube Kids family friendly,” the makers go on to say in the app store. “But no system is perfect and inappropriate videos can slip through, so we’re constantly working to improve our safeguards and offer more features to help parents create the right experience for their families.”

Uh huh.

Here’s a hint — if you need to put in a disclaimer informing parents how inappropriate material “can slip through” your safeguards, you aren’t family friendly. Hard stop.

Aside from the disturbing news about the one-time suicide video above, which is more than enough reason to bypass the app, what gets me angsty about YouTube Kids is the daily trash that shows up and my kids consume.

I don’t trust these adults

The content your child will find on YouTube Kids includes adults playing and narrating video game play, adults making fan fiction with a falsetto voices and toys like battery-operated Thomas trains, kids playing and narrating video game play, kids playing with toys, cartoons made by people you’re certain have spent most of their time scratching graffiti on public bathroom stalls, and so on.

If you don’t pay close attention, it seems innocent enough.

My boys love YouTube Kids. When they have iPad time on the weekends, it’s their number one app.

A particular favorite is watching other human beings play and narrate video games. I don’t get it. When I grew up, nothing was more boring than watching someone else hold the controller and play Mario/Sonic/Madden/anything.

And yet, my boys think watching a video of an adult play a video game is the greatest entertainment vortex in which to get lost.

Okay, fine. I have no problem with the kids using an iPad to watch shows now and then (my wife and I keep a few simple rules on it, such as limiting screen time to weekends). Their world is and will be dominated by this technology the way cable TV and Nintendo Gameboy ruled ours.

But sit down sometime and watch YouTube Kids with them. Ask yourself some critical questions, and you’ll begin to see why YouTube Kids needs to get squashed like Mario jumping on a walking mushroom.

I wouldn’t let these people babysit.

“Hey kids,” I overheard one adult narrator say. “Before we start playing Pokemon, leave a comment on this video and you’ll be entered to win a prize!”

Oh no you will not.

Think about that for a second. Some adult you’ve never met is encouraging your 7-year-old child to enter a contest. What if your child wins? Will they be asked to hand over personal information like a home address to receive the unspecified prize?

I’ve sometimes wondered about the people who publish these videos on YouTube Kids. What’s their “why?”Why are they doing this?

Plenty have created innocent content, including kids, I will concede. If the platform helps budding young video producers learn how to shoot, edit, and publish video, that’s a great thing.

It’s the adults I don’t trust. Specifically, the ones who make videos without kids in them, the ones who record their video game sessions and narrate every … single … second.

Forgive me, guys, but I have to ask myself about the maturity and life choices of a 20-something guy who spends his time recording himself playing video games, and then, publishing them so kids below the age of 10 can watch. Someone, please take these people out to a library/farmers market/bar/full-time job with benefits.

Simple logic

“We deleted it,” a coworker and fellow parent told me a few weeks ago when the topic of YouTube Kids came up. “My husband and I just figured, ‘Why are we letting our daughter spend time watching other kids play with toys when she could spend that time playing with her own toys.'”

And there it is. The simple logic all of us parents need to justify deleting YouTube Kids or never download it in the first place.

She’s absolutely right.

Child walking on a boardwalk
Photo by Japheth Mast on Unsplash

While I have no trouble with my children watching TV or an iPad, what I’m against is programming that’s nothing more than empty calories. And Caillou.

Entertainment is a good and valuable thing, even for young children. For me, many shows I watched as a child sparked creativity, and I can draw a direct line from some of those shows to becoming a writer and photographer today.

What I’m not for is letting my boys consume video content with less substance than a pack of those crackers colored in toxic orange with peanut butter sandwiched in between.

So the app is deleted. Gone. A return to PBS Kids is imminent, even if it means a return to that whiny Charlie Brown knockoff.

Dave Pidgeon is a writer and photographer from Lancaster, Pa., who writes about the humorous and poignant moments of fatherhood. You can reach him at dave@writingintheafternoon.com.

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