Like any doting grandparent, I look forward to seeing my grandchildren. Their visits are the highlight of my week. I arrange everything in my life, from my work schedule to the placement of toys, to ensure our time together is fun. I want them to come back again, and again, and again.
That, I believe, is the role — nay, the duty — of a grandparent. To love (and please) unconditionally. Sometimes, though, their requests baffle me.
“You want to do what?” I asked, one of the last times the grandkids spent the day. “But there are so many better things to do.”
I enumerated the fun activities. Neither the third grader nor the second grader considered any worth pursuing. They insisted on communing with my laptop.
Look, no one can argue that childhood has changed, is changing. I wouldn’t expect different. I even work hard at being broad-minded and approachable. But surely one of the more unsettling behaviors I’ve witnessed in the past few years is kids’ addiction to YouTube videos of other kids unboxing toys and then playing with them.
I don’t get it. No matter how I stretch my imagination, no matter how many times I turn and twirl the idea, I can’t figure out how these toy unboxing programs prove interesting to young minds. I find them boring, insulting, and terribly fake. Wouldn’t it be a lot better to do instead of to watch, to be a participant versus a spectator? Apparently not always.
My two youngest granddaughters are mesmerized by this internet genre, especially by those that feature L.O.L. Surprise! Dolls. They ignore my snide comments about the pretend delight or the annoying childlike voices of adults who play in front of a camera for a living. Even as they patiently explain the who, what, where and why of their fascination, I remain flummoxed.
I’m a great believer in moderation. Prohibition only makes certain activities that much more attractive. So, in my house (and definitely at their parents’) time spent on this vapid pastime is limited and supervised. Nevertheless, I’m bothered by these programs’ lure and lack of regulation. Surely others are too.
These YouTube videos are nothing but loooooooong promotions of one toy or another. In fact, I recently read that at least 20% of the platform’s top 100 channels, those with the most subscribers, are about toys. Well aware of this, most companies pay toy influencers to feature their products. The stars of these videos can rake in millions of dollars.
How’s this for American entrepreneurial ingenuity: Ryan Kaji, a 10-year-old, is said to be YouTube’s top earner. He, with the help of his family and an impressive array of toy-centric channels, earned more than $25 million in 2020, according to The New York Times.
Unlike old-fashioned TV, YouTube slips under the tentacles of the Children’s Television Act, which gives the Federal Communications Commission the power to regulate kids’ programming. Among other things, that law puts limits on the lengths of ads. No such protection for impressionable minds on YouTube, and I doubt that will change in the near future. Our elected officials in Washington appear too busy squabbling among each other.
I take solace in previous experience, recalling my alarm when my own children wanted to spend hours playing video games. Now they’re adults with spouses, jobs and mortgages and I can’t discern any lasting damage from that earlier fixation. Perhaps a kind of weaning will happen with the next generation as well.
In the meantime, I encourage my granddaughters’ love of Dav Pilkey books and their recent fascination with the Harry Potter series. I cheer their love of dress-up, American Girl dolls, Legos, and chasing their little brother.
Then, of course, there’s always the force of a singular word present in every language. I can’t recommend the power of NO! more enthusiastically.
(Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.)