Is YouTube your child's Digital Babysitter?

Is YouTube your child's Digital Babysitter?

29 May 2020 - YouTube has become a major source of entertainment, learning and distraction for children all around the world. There is always a child one would notice, holding some screen, pupils dilated, distractedly eating what the parent feeds them. Not socialising, no interaction, or talks in an accent the parents never spoke. YouTube has become everything for a child, given what and how much they watch.

ChuChuTv, Masha and the Bear, Little Baby Bum, Toy Pudding TV, Ryan's World. Is the list ever to end? Children who are "addicted" to screens are increasing day by day. Now, the 'addiction' level may be subjective and since children are a sensitive topic for parents, they may end up defending their child more than the energy that can go into maybe fewer minutes of screen-time. But the fact remains that children are reacting to YouTube in many ways one may not have imagined a decade ago.

Many parents and families often seem to enjoy their toddler talking with an accent, recording a video a la YouTuber, on the whole, pick up what they may have never experienced in their own tiny life. Such is the effect of YouTube.

Aforementioned popular channels for children have usually remixed, extended versions of nursery rhymes, or are entirely conceptualised to educate and teach. ChuChuTV was born in Chennai, as part of the CEO, Vinod Chandar's daughter�s (nicknamed Chu Chu) entertainment and has now grown into a 90,000 subscriber family with their most popular videos mounting millions of views. This channel churns out new videos every few days, riddled with colourful graphics and catchy melodies. Some of their videos include extended happier versions of classics that the directors wish to end on educational, cheerful notes. A myriad of multicultural characters, often focused on harmless, if not memorable endings tend to influence the brain of a child. For eg, Johnny Johnny tends to conclude on the otherwise-agitated-father, laughing and dancing around with innocent Johnny once he catches him eating sugar. Or Jack and Jill finally being able to fetch that pail of water and bringing it home to their mother, seems to have a better impact on children. Today ChuChuTV includes educational content, content in different languages, mythical content and continues to grow extensively.

Baby Shark or the addictive Surprise Eggs, Poli Car videos may seem like a mundane way to keep your child busy and one may wonder why do they seem so addictive. The child builds on relationships, vocabulary, element of surprise, elation, irritation, concern, all of which may have otherwise been picked up by interpersonal interaction. A child picks up visual cues and interactions and builds on them quicker than what they watch on screens. The popularity of screentime has replaced physical activities, face-to-face communication, all a result of busier lifestyles and the convenience of distractive content online. In a study conducted on the reasons for parents to introducing screens to their children, the most common factor being, as a digital babysitter. Followed by a source of calmness or soothing, thirdly - a source of enrichment and education, fourthly - a distraction during meals tied with using YouTube as background noise, fifth - to be used as a distraction outdoors, lastly - as a reward either before bedtime or source to aid establish a sleep pattern. The reasons may be many or less, but what may be ironic is that these are the enablers in itself, there is no mention of how much time a child may be subjected to a screen to.

With higher viewership, conscious content is imperative for a younger audience. For those of the era of Sesame Street, may not remember the context as much as the short lesson on numbers and letters or words, today's YouTube content is much more conscious. Content creators meant for children's content have a much higher responsibility than the mindless videos that kids sometimes stumble upon. There have been many cases across the globe of the trauma, influence and effect of negative, explicit content sometimes the children reach to after hours of scrolling. Toddlers tend to get traumatised but are unable to express their emotions upon watching these videos. Google and YouTube have been constantly banning and deleting such videos daily and continue to take action against such sneaky content. YouTube Kids is also a way to monitor and restrict unnecessary content that mainstream channels may indirectly lead a viewer to. The impending responsibility of social media and online content to make their ingredients safe, socially cautious and educational has been picked up by many organisations and companies, like Apple, Facebook, YouTube that try to work on smarter AI that will help monitor the viewing pattern and improve suggestions for a young viewer.

Nonetheless, parents and guardians are generally advised to monitor the content the kids watch and to actually establish the impacts of videos. YouTube isn't meant to be a digital babysitter regarding which is only going to have adverse effects on a child if done repeatedly, over a period of time. No parent wishes for their kids to be scapegoats and experiments to the influence of YouTube content that may be potentially harmful to them.
Parents/Guardians of YouTube-watchers can introduce a few necessary rules when introducing a screen to a child for their own future and positive development. Establishing screen time, content and supervision may be regarded as the highest in this list, followed by co-viewing and gentle nudge to watch educational videos that may not pose as forceful to kids may help. The relationship children build on when a parent/guardian watches something with them may have a more positive effect rather than a lonesome viewer. Being mindful of the behaviour of the child may also give them an idea of the kind of content they may be watching; agitation, irritation, sleeping pattern changes. Everything a child absorbs triggers emotions that in a certain manner.

Lastly, realising that YouTube may just be a medium of entertainment for children, some may even consider it a source of education, nevertheless, it is still an unsupervised territory and excess of anything at a young, impressionable age may be harmful in a manner that may not manifest instantly.

Maryam Syed