I Had To Wean My Kid Off His YouTube Addiction

by Wendy Wisner
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CookieSwirlC. Annoying Orange. Hobby Kids TV. Bad Baby.

If you have a kid between the ages of about 2 and 6, you’ve probably been exposed to the weird, dreadful, and cringe-worthy world of YouTube videos. Basically, these videos appear to be made by a bunch of amateurs who look like they’re shooting this stuff out of their basements. Many of the videos involve toys and candy — opening “surprise eggs” or “grab bags” — and then tantalizing the kids with the (cheap, plastic, overpriced) goodies inside.

I’m not sure if the makers of these videos are paid by toy manufacturers or what because the videos feel like homemade ads for the merchandise the hosts are touting. But either way, they are hugely popular, highly addictive (I have been known to call these videos “toddler crack”), and astronomically annoying.

Now, I am generally pretty lenient with screen time. We spend plenty of time reading and doing educational stuff, so TV and videos are allowed quite often in my house. My kids can’t watch anything violent, but weird humor and off-color jokes are okay by me. And sometimes this mom needs an uninterrupted shower or few long minutes on the toilet, so things like these YouTube videos — which keep my kids totally and completely absorbed — are absolute necessities, no regrets and no apologies.

At first, my biggest complaints with the videos were the irritating sounds that would emanate from the iPad. The amplified “crinkle, crinkle” of the packages being opened. The grating, high-pitched, squeaky voice of some of the hosts (I’m looking at you, CookieSwirlC). And all the fart and burp jokes, complete with disgustingly accurate sound effects.

But then, a few weeks ago, I started to notice that my 4-year-old’s behavior was becoming heavily impacted by the videos. He was demanding candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Every single toy he’d seen in the videos had to be added to his wish list NOW, and I found him attempting to search for stuff on Amazon (my one-click settings were promptly locked the hell up).

Next came some other red flags. He had seen a video where people were cutting toys up with scissors, and he started trying this at home — and not just with toys either (goodbye to my chapstick, phone charger, and his big brother’s homework).

But I think it’s when he started imitating Annoying Orange’s voice 24/7 that I had to put my foot down and put an end to the whole damn circus. I couldn’t take it anymore.

And no, it wouldn’t have been enough for me put on some parental controls and lock up certain YouTube shows. These kids have ways of finding them no matter what you do. I decided I needed to go full-throttle and just stop it with the YouTube madness altogether.

I realized, though, that as with any addictive comfort you’re trying to take away from your kid, you can’t just pull the plug. You’ve got to wean them, and slowly, offering tons of satisfying substitutions along with way. So in much the same way that you’d wean a child from the breast, the bottle, or a pacifier, I started weaning my 4-year-old from YouTube.

As you can imagine, it did not go well at first. After letting my son watch YouTube while I inhaled my breakfast, and then again later while I took my shower, I told him he wouldn’t be able to watch YouTube while I cooked dinner. And even though I’d warned him, and let him watch Sesame Street instead, he crumbled into a little ball on the floor and wept — but that was only after he’d kicked and screamed for 10 minutes before that.

The next day went a little better, and then a little better the day after that. Eventually, I was able to have him skip a few sessions of YouTube a day, while still letting him get his fix here and there. Along the way, he fell madly in love with The Magic School Bus (praise to Netflix, which streams the whole series), and he decided he needed to watch every single episode before the week was out.

Before I knew it, his daily YouTube fix became nonexistent and totally unnecessary. He continued to be transfixed by The Magic School Bus, and we found this amazing app called Epic that has a million books on it. He’s even gotten into “reading” the books himself as well as listening to the wide selection of audiobooks we’ve found.

It’s still screen time, and I still give my kids lots more than I probably should, but at least it’s educational, wholesome, and most importantly, not annoying in the least.

As for YouTube, so far he seems to have forgotten about it. He hasn’t even asked in over a week. Hallelujah! There is no way I’ll mention it, obviously, even to praise him for successfully extracting himself from it. If he does end up asking again, I might let him take a quick peek. But there is no way he’s getting anywhere near CookieSwirlC or Annoying Orange again without first gifting me with a heavy-duty set of ear plugs and a 10 gallon case of wine.

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