I’m not sure if it was the grating voices, the repetitive songs, the way our children were beginning to sound like Veruca Salt on hallucinogens (“Mom, can we have a giant egg full of plastic snakes and Orbeez?”) or the disconcerting strangeness of it all, but I finally decided to mom up and delete YouTube Kids.
It wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision. For months, I watched YouTube become our daughters’ go-to source for digital entertainment. I cringed when I would hear “Finger Family” echoing through the living room, and shook my head in disappointment when the sounds of our actual children playing were replaced by the voices of two young YouTube stars acting out implausible adventures with their Elsa dolls. Over time, we had invited dozens of annoying strangers into our house, and it wasn’t working anymore.
I hemmed and hawed over what to do until I finally remembered one kind-of-important thing: I’m the parent. I can do whatever I want, within reason. So I let Emilia and Grace have one last dance with their motley crew of online idols, and then I deleted the app. (I recognize that this decision was far from earth-shattering or heroic, but it was indeed freeing.)
In its place, I left some new apps. The kind aimed at enlightening kids as opposed to draining their life force, one hand-painted My Little Pony figurine at a time. What ensued was an interesting, emotional and anthropological experiment. The disappearance of YouTube Kids was met not with pure anger or indifference, but with a series of distinct stages.
Denial: The girls’ parent-approved iPad time usually occurs on weekdays after school, while Matt and I wrap up random tasks and get dinner ready. For at least a few days, they’d swipe wildly at the screen, on a fruitless search for a two-minute Littlest Pet Shop fix, insistent that YouTube was there somewhere. No luck.
Bargaining: Emilia began to offer up a series of “If I ______, can I have YouTube back?” deals. Trades included taking a bath, brushing her hair, brushing MY hair and being nice to her sister. I briefly contemplated the hair brushing offer, but ultimately said no.
Replacement: At this point, they began to make their own imaginary videos, describing their toys, art projects and pillow forts in detail, to no one in particular. These homemade episodes usually began with “Hey guys” and ended with a request for their viewers to follow them for more exciting content.
Acceptance: They haven’t forgotten the heady days of Play-Doh eggs and brightly colored acrylic nails opening boxes of Shopkins, but they seem to have accepted that, for now, the world is bigger than YouTube. PBS Kids still works, the games are pretty fun and outside of the iPad there are things like real people and sunshine.
Guilt: This stage is reserved for me. Sometimes I’ll hear Emilia recall a particular video wistfully, especially the ones that weren’t total Internet garbage, and wonder if I made a mistake.
We’re good for now — emphasis on the “for now” since I know, underneath the golden hooves of my high horse, there are plenty of reasons to cave. But in the meantime, it’s nice to have those strangers, with their bad manners and giant paper eggs, out of our living room.
Catherine Kraemer writes twice a month for Momaha.com. She and her husband, Matt, are the parents of three young girls – Emilia, 4, Grace, 2 and newborn Phoebe. Originally from St. Louis, Catherine lives in Omaha and works at a local advertising agency.