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Q: Our son just turned two, and his father and I disagree about the value or potential harm of the YouTube videos they watch together, almost daily, for about a half hour. Our extremely verbal son especially loves short, educational, do-it-yourself videos about how to use tools, and I am not unsupportive of him watching these occasionally. They also watch some cartoons/short videos geared for kids, but I think most of these contribute nothing to our son’s development at best, and convey negative messages at worst. It also bothers me that our son frequently asks to watch things on the computer and cries if we say it’s time to play with toys or read books instead (although he will accept re-direction after a few minutes). Your feedback would be most welcome!
YouTube’ing at Two, in Northern California

A: Dear YouTube’ing,

I know of one young woman who, when she was about three or four, liked the TV show “This Old House.” One day, her father walked into the room where she watching it and, thinking that she was too young to understand what was going on, said, “What does it look like they’re doing there?” She looked up at him and said matter-of-factly, “They’re grouting a bathroom, Dad.”

Like this little girl–and, indeed, all children–your two year old is learning from everything in his environment. The tool videos may indeed be helpful for him, if he enjoys building and you’d like him to learn what the videos are teaching. But, as you imply in your concern about negative messages, he will also learn from everything else. He will learn from the cartoon Tom and Jerry, for example, that steamrolling a cat won’t prevent it from jumping up, uninjured, a minute later. Young children are quite literal. That’s part of why one of our top five tips for using media in healthy ways is to choose content carefully. What’s great about the way you’re using YouTube is that your husband is not only choosing the content specifically for your son, but he’s also watching it with him (another one of our tips!).

To address your concern about your son’s attachment to videos, I might recommend helping him understand when he can and can’t use the computer. Toddlers do really well with routines, so one approach, if you decide to keep the videos as part of his daily life, is to incorporate this YouTube time into his routine. Maybe there will be 20 minutes of video time with dad after an afternoon nap, or right before brushing his teeth in the morning. That way, your toddler will know when to expect it; he can look forward to it as part of his day and know when it’s over that it will happen again tomorrow. Making it regular instead of random will also take away the sense that it’s a “treat” and that if he cries for it, he might get it.

It can be tricky to get on the same page as your spouse about these issues, and it might be helpful for you to think about whether there’s something that could change that would make you more comfortable with the YouTube watching (Educational videos but no cartoons? Watching for 15 minutes instead of 30?) or whether you’re uncomfortable with it all together. Approach the topic in much the same way that you would discuss which school is right for your son–not as a question of right and wrong but rather as a way to figure out what you want for your son, and what guidelines you can create and honor together.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician®

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