YouTube is both a blessing and a curse. For me, it’s an endless utopia of makeup tutorials, compilations of Parks and Rec clips, and a quick reference for when my brain has lost the storage space necessary for basic information like how to boil an egg.
For my kids, it’s the holy grail of screen time. They only have access to it when they’ve really earned it or am really desperate. This is because most of the content, or at least most of the content my kids end up watching, is total garbage. Here’s some of the worst shit I’ve encountered as a parent on YouTube:
1. Adults creepily playing with children’s toys.
I would count the ways I hate this genre, but I’ll have a rage seizure if I think about it too long. These are basically commercials if the sound of specific commercials made you come running from another room in the house screaming, “Turn off that bullshit!”
Adults buy toys, sometimes unboxing them on camera, and then they play with them. Sounds innocent enough — except that these adults all adopt the pitch and speed of a rabid tween while they’re talking and are responsible for 90% of my most recent earbleeds.
And then there’s the hyper-electronic music in the background and frequent exclamations of “Oh my god! This is so cool! I can’t believe it, you guys!” while they inspect the new toy and explain all the reasons your kids need to pester you into buying it. I want a government agency whose sole purpose is to regulate this shit and wipe it off the face of the internet.
2. Low-budget pseudo-educational nonsense.
You see a video with a picture of some anthropomorphic letters called Alphabet Song, and you figure it can’t do much harm. You figured wrong, friend. Quickly you will realize that these are novice attempts at Flash while someone sings into their laptop’s microphone. And your toddler is eating it up. It won’t be long before your kid sings the final lines of “Twinkle, Twinkle” as “…how I wonder what you are. Click the button to subscribe!”
3. Those fucking egg videos.
Who knows the search terms that eventually lead your children down this rabbit hole, but every single one of them finds it. Videos of hollow chocolate eggs filled with a cheap-ass little toy. A pair of adult hands come on screen and slowly tear away the foil wrapper, then carefully break the egg and pull away the chocolate. The process is painfully slow to build up excitement as to what the hell is in the goddamn egg. And then your kid starts begging you to buy them eggs of their own. But guess what? They’re from freaking Europe.
4. Anything that autoplays into an inappropriate music video.
A bootleg of Sesame Street. What luck! It won’t be up long before some intern at HBO makes a copyright claim, but they’re great for today. Except for when the episode ends and the closing notes of “Elmo’s World” autoplays swiftly to some third-tier pop singer rolling around on a bed, singing about her “lovaaah.” Who the hell created that playlist? Abort. ABORT.
5. Classic cartoons that you don’t realize are hella racist until adulthood.
How quaint! One of the old cartoons that were even old way back when you were young. Think it’ll be pleasantly nostalgic to watch them together with your little one? Think again. Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, even the high holy Mouse, all have episodes with super racist storylines. Bugs Bunny in blackface, highly offensive depictions of black characters in vintage Disney cartoons, and Tom and Jerry were bad enough that Amazon and iTunes felt the need to include a warning in their descriptions.
6. Dubbed-over versions of their favorite cartoons.
Finding a free episode of a popular kids show on YouTube is pretty much a unicorn, so it can be hard for kids not to get excited when they think they’ve found one. Imagine my excitement when I hear someone who dubbed their voice over Caillou’s mom’s telling him he’s a whiny little asshole? She ain’t wrong, but damn, I don’t need more hurdles in the battle between me and my kid swearing during circle time.
7. Fake-outs of their favorite movies.
Enough with the damn fakes! Hell hath no fury like a child who thinks they’re about to watch Frozen, only to find a 90-minute still screen with a link to some out-of-bounds website where they can supposedly watch the movie off of YouTube. You might as well buy disposable, compostable computers since that will probably be cheaper than the constant virus-scrubs the dude at Geek Squad is going to have to perform.
8. I don’t know what the fuck to call these.
Utter nonsense videos. The most popular that comes to mind is an orange with a human face. How the hell kids love this shit instead of running away screaming is beyond me. If you make your living as a demon fruit telling stupid jokes and singing annoying songs to children, I want you to have to register as some kind of offender of something, somewhere. This does not feel safe.
I’m not going to suggest anything crazy or outlandish like actually monitoring your kids on the computer. But maybe just go ahead and block everything that isn’t PBS or applications for college scholarships right out the gate.