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What Happens When Kids Start Watching YouTube

Photograph by Twenty20

Forget about too much TV. Kids these days—really young kids—are apparently spending the bulk of their screentime hours on YouTube.

Kids age 11 and under make up the fastest growing audience for digital video. Thanks to apps that have promised parental-level controls, growth of young kids as a share of the digital audience is nearly four times as fast as viewers 18 to 24, digital researchers eMarket reports.

But if you have young kids, you already know this.

In fact, few would even be surprised if your kids had their own YouTube channel, a sizable audience and decent income from self-created videos that baffle digital non-natives. Father and reporter David Pierson wrote in the LA Times how his kids' interpret their world as if hosts of a YouTube show. Whereas older kids may have gone through their young lives imitating Taylor Swift and dancing like Beyoncé, and today's parents grew up pretending to be Batman, his little kids unpack their lunches as if filming an unboxing video. Pierson describes it like this:

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“Dad is making a right turn now,” my 5-year-old son Jack will say as he newscasts the ride to school to a fictional audience.

“Don’t forget to subscribe,” his sister Ella, 6, will often interject—again, to no one in particular.

When I was their age, I’d pretend to be a soldier or a baseball player. Today, kids apparently aspire to be vloggers. It’s not enough for them to watch their favorite shows. They want to broadcast their lives, banter with commenters and keep their make-believe view counts high.

What was once the Wild West of online videos—you never knew what the search results for "pirate pants" would be—YouTube recently launched an app called "You Tube Kids." In the first year, it got more than 10 billion views and became the go-to toddler meltdown antidote for parents in restaurants everywhere. YouTube Kids' stricter ad guidelines, abilty for parents to pick and choose controls and voice-activiated search ensure ease of use for kids and security for their parents. Then came the rush of self-made unboxing videos followed by ad revenue—for 10-year-olds.

Which is how Pierson, and millions of parents like him, are now raising budding YouTube stars, either in their own right or their own minds.

Photograph by Twenty20

Experts still aren't sure what watching and making these videos is doing to young, developing brains. But parents of some pretty big-name YouTubers insist the down-and-dirty videos, often with low productions values and not great lighting, are great learning tools and wonderful ways to develop the minds of kids.

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Brian Alexander, whose 10-year-old daughter Presley runs an educational YouTube channel called Act Out Games, told YouTubers recently at VidCon, an annual conference in Anaheim, Calif., that the daily videos his daughter makes and uploads is the digital glue that seals their bond. He helps her with the tech and business side, and also shields her from nasty comments and trolls.

“It’s been an amazing thing for our relationship,” he said. “We’re very, very close because of it.”

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