The world seems to be enamoured with subscription streaming TV services, and toddlers aren’t immune to this trend.
UK research firm Childwise has revealed Netflix is their number one.
But they’re not just streaming paid content. Childwise’s latest annual Monitor report, which focuses on children’s media usage, shows YouTube is right up there with Netflix: it’s the most popular, free, on-demand video service amongst 3- to 5-year-olds.
The report, which surveyed 774 parents and carers, further indicated that 1 in 6 preschoolers viewed content, from shows like Play School to Barbie-themed stop-motion clips, via the ‘YouTube Kids’ app, nearly half of them on their own tablets.
Unlike the rest of us, though, they’re not watching Orange is the New Black – or are they? Dr Joanne Orlando, senior lecturer in early childhood education at Western Sydney University, hopes parents use Netflix’s parental controls to prevent this. However, she points out that while such tools control content’s maturity level, they fail to regulate quantity – an equally pressing issue.
She is concerned parents are using tablets, in particular, as babysitters, which can lead to children “missing out on life”. Dr Kristy Goodwin, a children’s technology and development expert, is also troubled by toddler’s streaming sensibilities. She explained that an infinite supply of content creates something called a ‘state of insufficiency’, in which we never feel satisfied. Toddlers are more vulnerable to this, as “their brains are especially wired for novelty”.
Stream on, streamer
Not all streaming is created equal. Goodwin noted that its utility, or lack thereof, depends on what’s being streamed – leisure or learning content.
Orlando echoed this and added that on-demand services’ lack of advertisement blocks is positive. Advertisements can be harmful, as “the very young find it harder to differentiate between them and programming content”, she elaborated. An example is ‘unboxing’ clips on YouTube, aimed at kids, which blur the lines between advertising and entertainment. Take this Disney-sponsored one, for example, whose creator was the top YouTube earner in 2014:
Other benefits of tablet-enabled toddler streaming Orlando mentioned include that they cause children to hold devices in their hands, promoting strength, and, surprisingly, their easy-to-navigate pictorial selection menus, which are “quite empowering’ for children. Also, “…being able to see the images or symbols and know what they mean, that’s one of the first steps in learning to read,” she said.
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