Youth Culture Window
Between wildly popular titles like Stranger Things and Fuller House on streaming services, and a near endless number of YouTube clips on the Internet, today’s kids have plenty of digital content to watch.
Like their MTV-addicted parents before them, this generation loves videos!
According to a report released by eMarketer entitled The Digital Lives of US Kids, today’s children lean heavily on digital video for their (online) entertainment. They found that “nearly half of [kids] ages 11 and younger are digital video viewers” partly because “kids ages 0 to 8 are more likely to be in households with subscription video than with cable TV.” These subscription video services are growing in number…and popularity. Some of the biggest names include Netflix, HBO Now, Hulu, and Amazon Video, but there are a number of up-and-coming players such as Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, and Spotify Premium.
With all these options available to children, binge-watching has become a concern among families. Bingeing, the practice of viewing multiple episodes of a television program in rapid succession, is actually how Netflix describes their banner year in 2017: A Year in Bingeing. If you want to know what young kids were watching this year, check out this compilation provided by Common Sense Media to browse the most popular Netflix shows by age bracket.
But kids aren’t just watching content on those paid services; they’re also devouring the free content on good ol’ YouTube. Exactly how much YouTube children consume is up for debate, but it’s clearly a lot. Some studies claim that 45% of 8-12-year old kids own a YouTube account, while roughly 66% of the same age group uses the online video vault for their personal entertainment. Some studies even report that kids under the age of 8 spend up to 65% of their online time watching YouTube clips.
Again, specifics depend on who you listen to, but one thing’s for certain: young kids love their YouTube. As early as 2015, YouTube was being called “the new children’s TV.” In fact, the popularity of YouTube among children is what led the online video giant to launch YouTube Kids, making it “safer and simpler for kids to explore the world through online video.”
So, what are they watching?
It depends on the children, of course, but some of the most popular clips include Minecraft tutorials, unboxing reels, music videos, Dude Perfect highlights, and bad lip reading scenes. (Here are the top YouTube videos that went viral in 2017.)
In no way am I trying to play down music’s appeal to kids – or movies or video games or books for that matter. But kids are taking in more and more TV content and online video…in part because they’re getting smartphones earlier than ever. According to a report released by Nielsen earlier this year, 45% of kids had a smartphone (with an accompanying service plan) by the time they were 10-12 years of age.
The presence of smartphones often brings parents a sense of security because the devices offer instant communication with their kids. But they’re just as likely to introduce worry and outright fear in parents’ minds because of the inappropriate content their young kids can stumble onto in the search for online entertainment. Knowing that, ministry leaders and parents will need to constantly engage kids and teens about their video choices. Here are two very simple tips to help with that:
- Watch video content WITH them. I’ll admit, while our son has different tastes in online videos from me – for instance the 11-year-old lad loves this really, really stupid “music” video and its accompanying Christmas video – we often enjoy YouTube clips together on our smart TV. We might watch funny human fail clips, certain stand up comedians, or even educational videos on whatever his middle school history class is studying. We also watch shows on Netflix (like their informative Brain Games or the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars) as a family. Not only does it provide the opportunity for great quality time as a family, it often leads to terrific conversations about relationships, ethics, faith, and more. In fact, The Source for Youth Ministry has an entire page dedicated to free resources that promote biblical discussions called YOUTUBE DISCUSSIONS STARTERS. Nothing can substitute for a parent’s presence, so watch video content with them as often as possible.
- Stay aware of available content. It should go without saying: not everything on YouTube or the subscription video services is appropriate for young kids. For example, just a few months ago, Netflix released Big Mouth, a show with plenty of sexually explicit references and expletives…even though it’s a cartoon about kids! And YouTube has recently been inundated with “disturbing” videos intentionally targeting children. If you want to stay on top of what millions of kids are watching you might want to:
- check out YouTube’s “trending” list of videos.
- scroll through Netflix’s “trending now” shows (of the other brand’s similar lists).
- ask your kids what they like to watch on their own.
- enquire about what shows their friends watch (and talk about at school).
There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of the great entertainment – and educational – videos available to us these days. Just make sure that you guide young children in their video choices so that when they hit play, the content doesn’t hit back.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.
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