New data from the Pew Research Center suggests that over 80 percent of parents are letting children under the age of 11 watch YouTube and that most of these parents are keenly aware that the nominally age-restricted platform routinely surfaces disturbing videos. According to the report, the vast majority of parents are willing to let the flawed YouTube algorithm babysit despite all those cartoons of Peppa Pig being orally tortured, PAW Patrol pups attempting suicide, or Elsa being clubbed with a shovel before being buried alive. This suggests not only that YouTube Kids isn’t succeeding as a product, but also that parents have a weirdly laissez-faire attitude about exposing their kids to crazy stuff on the internet.
And, make no mistake, a free-range YouTube kid is gonna see some wild stuff. Letting a kid explore the platform is a bit like taking kids to a zoo where the lions are randomly and publically fed entire litters of puppies. And if that sounds over the top, it isn’t, let me walk it out for you….
Sure, the zoo is great. You get to wander from cage to cage seeing really cool things. And your kids want to see the animals so bad that you don’t want to say no even though the whole thing is — and you keep this to yourself — a little sad. Then you get there and talk to the pimply teenage usher and the gate and he gives you the lowdown.
“Well, sometimes, we just take like a dozen two-month-old golden retrievers and let them loose in the lion cage,” he explains. “We don’t always do it, but we do it sometimes and we don’t warn people so your kids could see it. I mean, it’s a real bloodbath, but, you know, sometimes the cages aren’t peppered with puppy heads locked in a permanent expression of existential terror. So, like, it’s lit.”
“But it doesn’t happen all the time?” you ask.
“And there are still elephants and hippos?”
“But there’s no nudity or sex, right?”
Then, as you’re just about to enter the zoo because the kids are practically begging, the usher provides one last piece of information: “I should tell you that we run another zoo down the street and it does not feature any puppy-eating lions.”
You hear this. You look at your kids. They give you, ironically, puppy dog eyes and insist the other zoo is for babies. You shrug, pat them on the head, push them into the zoo and towards the lion cage, which is full of weirdly chubby cats. You feel weird about this, but also you’re tired and it’s a Sunday and you’d rather be watching RedZone anyway…
But here’s the thing: It turns out that you’ve arrived at puppy time. So your kids watch as a group of golden retriever puppies clumsily frolic into the lion cage where they curiously approach a big cat. And just when you think things might work out, the lion uses a massive paw to crush a couple puppies who lets loose terrified tortured yelps as their little spines snap. Then the lion just chomps down on them, impaling them with massive sharp teeth, and the puppies practically burst like fuzzy sacks of blood. And yet somehow their tails still seem to keep wagging as the lion chomps and chomps, blood dripping down its mane. There are puppy parts everywhere and the still uneaten puppies can only whimper and cower, slipping in the viscera as they try, unsuccessfully, to escape.
The image of the puppy-eating lions is now in their heads. It lives there. And you will have to deal with the repercussions — like anxiety attacks when seeing puppies (or lions) or sleepless teary, nightmare-fueled nights. You have to accept the fact that you let them see this — even though there was a safe zoo right next door.
Then, a week later, your kids want to go to the zoo again. You let them.
That’s what letting young kids click around YouTube is like. But parents do it because the internet seems different. But it isn’t. It’s a pane of glass same as the zoo barrier. Witnessing something terrible remains deeply scarring. Here are some things kids can see on YouTube … A Mickey Mouse ripoff trapped in a dryer, animated children lighting each other on fire, a hand with giraffes as fingers but instead of a giraffe’s head they sport Elsa’s head from Frozen.
Some 80 percent of parents seem incapable of getting their heads around this idea. Some 80 percent of parents are heading straight to the lion cage at puppy hour and, let me tell you, it’s gonna end badly.