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YouTube, Your Child

Jim Wasserman, 3:44 am ET

I’VE HEARD SOME parents say that, while they don’t like their kids watching online videos, at least they aren’t being exposed to the ads that inundate kids on regular TV.

Nope. Advertising is at least as pervasive, and definitely more insidious, on the web. Kids have shifted from network television to web-viewing, and advertisers have trailed right behind them with Willie Sutton logic—because that’s where the money is.

YouTube is the most popular video streaming site in the world. Kids watch it more than they do live TV or even many streaming video sites such as Netflix. What kids are also seeing on YouTube (even if it doesn’t consciously register) are all manner of ads located in banner scrolls, sidebars and pop-ups. There’s almost never a time when advertising is not on the screen. Many feature characters similar to the ones that children enjoy on their favorite programs. The difference is, these animated pitchmen are telling kids what to buy.

There are few, if any, age filters on video streaming sites, plus kids circumvent them easily by sharing videos with one another. If you have middle-school children, you probably know how they love to pass along age-inappropriate stuff that they somehow already know about.

As an educator and author in the field of media literacy, I know that no single ad will make middle-schoolers buy a product or become enamored of gratuitous violence and sex. But the constant drip, drip, drip of commercial messages builds up like a stalagmite. Their influence may be firmly planted before parents notice, by which time there may be a lot of bad ideas to undo.

Advertisers know this, too. They’re counting on you being too busy or distracted to notice what your kids are watching. They certainly don’t want you watching alongside them, taking note of the messaging about violence, sex or products that will supposedly make your child happy. My advice: Prove the advertisers wrong.

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