When you allow your toddler to watch YouTube videos, have you noticed they’d much rather see a random video of adult hands playing with toys lately? I’ve actually sat and watched Isra not only swipe my messages up and off my screen like boy bye, but seen her swipe the carousel up and onto my screen too.
“No, not Baby Shark – dis one,” she says, clicking on a completely arbitrary video of a grown man’s hands throwing animal toys into a kiddie pool of soapy water, another of a woman opening surprise eggs, or someone putting colourful balls into... is that a toy microwave oven?
It sounds super creepy, but it’s innocent for the most part and utterly addictive to your kids. And YouTube’s algorithm isn’t helping.
It’s no secret that YouTube, and the internet in general, takes note of what you’re searching for online. That’s why after you watched that very first Tastemade video of a teeny-tiny birthday cake for ants, you found yourself completely and utterly consumed by how to make tiny falafel with metze, and empanadas the size of your fingernails.
Every time your child clicks on a video in the carousel of your device, through their recommendation algorithm based on your search and viewing history, Youtube filters through the millions of new videos that are uploaded every day to give your kids videos they’re obviously more interested in watching, explains The Atlantic. That’s why they keep seeing the same kind of videos over and over again of adults playing with toys.
Your toddler’s pretty much creating their own algorithm, and even if they’re doing so unconsciously, they certainly do enjoy doing it.
Your baby girl is growing up and discovering a new sense of autonomy so you’ll find they’re also starting to shout “No!” at everything you ask – the toddler equivalent of Beyoncé’s, “Boy, bye.” In the same way, they’re enjoying the power of being able to swipe through an endless selection of videos and pick the ones they want to see. And how they decide which ones that’ll be is simpler than you think.
Surprise eggs and lots and lots of toys
This 'Paw Patrol Play Doh Surprise Eggs' video has over 30 million views, while the YouTube channel Toys Unlimited, has over 7.6 million subscribers.
The Atlantic spoke to a few experts who put it quite simply when speaking about surprise egg videos, like the one above: “Who doesn’t want to get a surprise? That’s sort of how all of us operate,” said Sandra Calvert, the director of the Children’s Digital Media Center at Georgetown University. They also mentioned the fact that when kids see toys they’re immediately intrigued. “Many of the videos are basically toy commercials,” they explained.
Dr Joanne Orlando, a researcher at Western Sydney University looking specifically into technology and learning, put it in context of what we know about children and their behavioural characters.
She explained children are more likely to click on the following videos for these reasons:
- They feature popular characters in figurine form that they’re already familiar with and love. Seeing a Paw Patrol thumbnail is probably responsible for many a click on the above video.
- The videos include toys they already have, and they enjoy watching them being played with.
- Like with the ever-popular unboxing videos your older kids are probably watching, toddlers love guessing what’s inside the surprise egg, or what will come after putting the colourful balls in the microwave. They’re curious – they're intrigued – that's what keeps their attention, before clicking on the next thumbnail, of course.
And the cycle continues.
Every time your child clicks on one of these thumbnails, a YouTuber’s spidey tingle is activated across the globe, 10 new videos of a grown man squishing slime against a wall are produced, and Baby Sharks everywhere die. And to think, it’s all your power hungry toddler’s fault.
Which kinds of videos do your kids love watching online?
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