“Screen Time” is a buzz word that parents like to throw around. How much is your child getting? Television is bad for development and all that. Between iPad apps and videos, Adi gets a fair amount. Maybe that makes me a bad mom, but whatever. I know everything she watches and I try to choose educational media for her to consume.
It turns out I didn’t have complete control.
In my eternal quest to have Adi leave me alone long enough for me to cook dinner, I made a YouTube playlist of age-appropriate and very distracting videos. I hit play on the first one, go to the kitchen, and by the time the playlist is finished, I have dinner made. I don’t want to be the kind of parent that just sticks her kid in front of the television, but holy frijole it’s an effective babysitter.
Better living through technology.
Usually when Adi watches something on television, I’m sitting there with her and we talk about what’s going on the screen. When she’s on her YouTube playlist, I’m in the other room.
With many YouTube videos, especially the popular ones, an advertisement will play before the actual video. We don’t have a television (all of the media we consume is streamed over the Internet) so commercials are a bit of a novelty for Adi. They’re harmless typically, mostly for household cleaning supplies, cat food, or Tupperware. But then a couple of nights ago, I heard what I can only describe as noises of a sexual nature over a dance beat. Worried that Adi had somehow left the playlist and stumbled on something horrifically inappropriate, I ran into the room.
Adi didn’t stumble on anything. One of the made-for-preschoolers videos had a music video commercial. A music video not made for preschoolers. It was not appropriate for someone Adi’s age. Heck, it wasn’t appropriate for someone my age. I know that the inappropriate parts of the video were beyond Adi’s scope of understanding but I would still prefer it if she didn’t see scantily-clad women grinding up on some man wearing tacky sunglasses and standing next to a wind machine.
I’m sure YouTube advertisements are based on some kind of algorithm I don’t understand based on title tags, meta descriptions, and other words my marketing technologist husband has said to me over the years. I suppose you could argue that I should stick to established and/or corporate channels that have complete control over advertising, but some of the best videos for children out there are independently produced and not affiliated with any large channel. If there is an age rating system for YouTube (aside from 18+) I haven’t found one.
If there’s a way to specify an age range for advertisements I encourage people who produce and upload videos to choose commercials that are age appropriate. Adi’s viewing habits have changed — at least the sources of her media consumption have. There are some really lovely videos that are ruined by terribly inappropriate advertisements. I can’t imagine that this sort of thing is done on purpose but it’s definitely something moms (who leave their kids alone watching videos to make dinner) should be aware of.
Rachel Figueroa-Levin is a soapmaker, cofounder and educator at Urban Babywearing, a hyperlocal Inwood blogger and organizer, a political/life/religion/parenting satirist, and all around trouble maker. She is also the creator of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Spanish-speaking alter ego @elbloombito. You can reach her via twitter @Jewyorican.