Monday, July 31, 2017

The content that children choose to watch

When I was little (yes, I realize any sentence that starts out that way makes me instantly sound old, but I've made my peace with that), we watched Saturday Morning Cartoons. It was such a treat at the time - cartoons on television for hours and hours and hours. And we woke up early just to see them: Voltron, Snorks, Shirt Tails, whatever this thing was about, Looney brother and I watched them all until Soul Train came on and it was time to get dressed and go outside.

And, looking back, a lot of what we watched was crap. But it was what we had. And we loved it.

This is a story that my son doesn't understand. Because he lives in a world in which he can access cartoons whenever he wants (as long as he has screentime). So, because there is so much content out there, I find it interesting to see what children want to watch when actually provided with options.

When my son was younger, he wanted to watch the movie Cars. And that's about it. We must have seen that movie 500 times. I can probably recite all the words to it. It's not unusual for children to get stuck on one favorite thing to watch over and over again (related: Sorry, Mom, about all the times I demanded to watch Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). But now that he is older, his tastes in programming are really coming through. Gone are the days when children watch everything their friends watch - there's just too much content for that.

No, these are the days of algorithmically chosen content via YouTube Kids. If a kid likes a video, are 10 more just like it that YouTube has chosen based off the content of the last one. No additional searching required. If a child didn't like the video, then there is always plenty more stuff to watch. Your child could end up watching 10 different videos that all basically have the same theme/plot/content.

And that is a deep rabbit hole to be sending children down. I guess in terms of variety it is good (or at least as good as the toy-based He-Man and She-Ra cartoons of my youth), but since there is no Soul Train to signal that it is time to go out and play, parents will still need to be around to turn the channel off.

What content does your child enjoy on YouTube? Tell me in the comments.

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