Thursday, 19 November 2015

Should we have a mild panic about our kids watching YouTube? Or is it alright?

So the tweet that caught my eye this morning was a link to Stuart Dredge's piece 'YouTube is the new children’s TV – here’s why that matters'.

He goes on to raise all the usual middle class concerns of allowing your kids to raise themselves by quietly watching TV on their tablets in the corner of the room while you go about your business.

He poses a series of questions:

• Is YouTube in the driving seat, or its young viewers?

• Should parents use YouTube as a ‘digital babysitter’?

• How comfortable are we with advertising to children?

• How much tracking is too much tracking?

• Is the new children’s TV actually any good?

I find my own kids' consumption of TV fascinating. And by TV I mean televisual content, moving digital images accompanied by audio.

They understand the difference between watching normal telly, Netflix, iPlayer, YouTube or their favourite DVD.

They love YouTube as 'that's the only place you can watch a video by Alfie and Zoe', but also don't mind seeing adverts on Disney's channel on the Virgin Media cable box 'as long as they are for things they can add to their birthday or Christmas list'. Not bothered about toothpaste ads in case you wondered.

They like Netflix 'lots of choices', BBC iPlayer is 'good for certain programmes', YouTube also good for 'Horrid Henry'.

I expected them to be more vocal about why they enjoy having the ability to pause and record live TV, but the reasons they gave were more predictable, 'so we don't miss anything'. I'd wrongly assumed it was so they could fast forward ads (like me).

Ads on YouTube weren't a problem, 'you can skip them after 3 seconds'.

What's your favourite? Orlaigh, 6, 'Netflix and YouTube'. Amelie, 9, 'Depends, I like watching the TV when the presenter says after one programme what's coming up next on CBBC. That's good.'

So, am I a bad parent? Both kids have access to the Internet on their own Android tablets. One is logged in as me, the other as Becky my wife.

In-app purchases are blocked. Any emails are seen by me, neither are allowed a social media presence or access to messaging services in games or via apps. Both are allowed to watch a small group of pre-agreed YouTubers who I've personally approved (and met in real life via my job).

However they don't watch YouTube via YouTube Kids. So are exposed to the comments section, but 'don't read them in case there are rude words' according to Amelie.

Nine times out of ten I'm in the same room as them and can hear whether they are watching an American dance group soap or one of the seemingly endless mermaid series. We do allow them to watch movies in their bedrooms when having sleepovers.

Am I worried about YouTube? No, and yes. Deliberately that way round.

YouTube is brilliant, endless, on demand, fun.

But, it is also social.

Kids below 13, and many above, don't yet have the emotional intelligence to adequately handle comments and discussion of a virtual nature.

I don't really think of YouTuber as a separate thing.

I think of the televisual content my kids consume appearing on their tablets or the telly in the lounge.

The distinction in their eyes is obvious. Where it differs if format or programming to them is also fairly irrelevant.

If I'm watching the news or a footy match on the telly, they'll switch to their tablets.

If they want to lie in on a weekend and watch Richie Rich on Netflix while I surf Twitter, superb.

In years to come will they all merge even further into an amorphous mass? Probably.

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