My son checking on a an eggplant in our backyard
My son checking an eggplant from our potager

Before having kids I thought that the alkaline battery industry was dead. However, as soon as we had our first child, I was chocked how many battery we go through each month.  the battery industry is not just alive, it is thriving. Rocker, bouncer seat, play mat, lamp, etc. Anything you buy for a child nowadays will probably require some sort of battery.

Another thing I learned thanks to my kids is that they can watch the same stuff over and over again and not get bored. I'm amazed how they can watch a Wild Kratts episode on PBS in the morning and watch it again in the afternoon and still get the same chuckle and excitement on their faces.

This is exactly what is driving the popularity of Youtube children videos. Kids love them and parents love them even more. For parents, it's literally a free nanny on-call. When I'm tired after a long day at work, I will just put a Princess Dress-up or Toy Cars video on Youtube and my kids will be glued to their screens for hours. It's helpful during a trip to the store, on the airplane or during long doctor appointments.

As a Youtube user and creator, I thought those videos were cute until I saw first hand how manipulative they can be for a child. It's a recipe for raising children with low self-esteem, hating the way they look, not appreciative of what they have and just simply messed-up.

Thanks to Youtube autoplay feature, one video can quickly turn into a binge-watching party if parents are not around. What is even more alarming, is that the video suggestion on Youtube is totally automated and it is not perfect. You may start with a sing-along video and end up with a masturbating Mickey Mouse video(1).

Many tech-elites(2) limit the time their kids spend on technology. The Waldorf School(3), an exclusive private school in Silicon Valley, ban tablets, smartphones and other personal electronic devices from their elementary classrooms. At the end of the day, this epidemic is affecting poor and working families who can't afford to have their kids engaged in meaningful activities or have a quiet time to relax after a long day at work.

Fortunately, and especially after the 2016 US elections, we are witnessing a long awaited digital data privacy awakening among internet users. We are also seeing many groups and organizations raising awareness about smartphone addiction and pushing for a non-addictive design principles(4).

Protecting my kids from electronic devices addiction is one of the reasons I switched to a dumb-phone. If I don’t want them to watch Youtube all the time, I fee that I should do the same and be a role model for them. If I want my kids to read books, I should perhaps read books too. If I want them to engage is meaningful activities, I should do so myself.

This is a very complicated problem where the solution can change the way we design and use the Internet. The business model of internet giants is built on advertising and harvesting customers' private data. The more they know about you, the better they can target you with advertisements and the more money they make. It's a very simple formula, but it's also invasive and easy to manipulate.

While I still let my kids watch Youtube from time to time, I make sure they don't get sucked into the vortex of Youtube autoplay. I also make sure they stick to children-friendly channels I can "tolerate". There are plenty for excellent educative and entertaining content on Youtube. But there are also some pretty bad channels that should be shut down.

  1. The nightmare videos of childrens' YouTube — and what's wrong with the internet today | James Bridle
  2. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs raised their kids tech-free — and it should've been a red flag -  The Independent
  3. Tech-free schools for children of Silicon Valley - The Times
  4. Our society is being hijacked by technology - Center for Human Technology