Our daughter is almost three and I have many more questions than answers about her world and my reaction to it. For example, what is her obsession with family finger videos on YouTube? Why do I hum the song when I’m alone? Why does she insist on watching surprise egg videos on my phone any time she can? Finally, why do these videos have millions and millions of views?
As far as I can tell, they were created by beings from some other dimension who have found a way to tap into 3 and 4 year old preferences on a most primal level.
If you don’t know – and why would you unless your child chases after them like Tom Hanks pursuing vintage typewriters or Angelina Jolie collecting antique knives (both true) – here is what the family finger and egg videos are.
The egg videos work something like this. Most involve a plastic egg filled with small toys. Wrapped around the egg is a coating of Play-Doh. Disembodied hands tear off the Play-Doh while an excited voice chronicles the entire unveiling process. Some of them feature a soundtrack of 1980s era generic music sans narration. I prefer the ones with happy extroverted play-by-play commentators. My daughter now uses the word “narration” as a result. Here is a typical example:
This 21-minute video has nearly 600 million page views as of March 2017. That is 6-0-0 million! This is in the same ballpark as Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Rihanna, and Taylor Swift. There are at least a couple other clips that have 700 and 800 million views. If you add up page views from just the top 10 most popular videos in this online subculture you are looking at page views in the multi-billions. Also, it is worth noting that for most of these videos there are nearly as many “thumbs-down” dislikes as there are “thumbs-up.” Clearly, we are a world divided. By the way, Gangnam Style tops the list with over 2.7 billion views.
The finger videos always have the same song: “Mommy finger, mommy finger, where are you? Here I am. Here I am. How do you do?” Insert another family member for mommy and repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Many of the videos feature favorite characters from kid’s shows and movies.
The page views in this genre rival those from the surprise egg collection. It is in the billions. Toy companies are certainly enjoying the success of these videos. A quick YouTube search of “mommy finger where are you” yields a list of suggestions including Frozen, Mickey Mouse, Spiderman, and Hulk.
Is This Normal?
The psychology behind these videos is based on the allure of “unwrap and reveal.” A child’s senses are stimulated with bright colors, sounds, and the mystery of what is inside. There is nothing violent in the videos. The toys, once revealed, often require a little bit of engineering to put the pieces together. This is all OK, but it is important to remember that too much screen time at a young age is a bad thing and should be limited (one hour per day maximum).
We encourage our daughter to play with toys and use her imagination. And she does. This makes the surprise egg videos even more baffling. It is as if millions of children are content watching other people open presents instead of doing it themselves – like an adult who watches travel shows on TV but doesn’t want the hassle of actually going anywhere. Or the food lover who eats fast food in real life but watches gourmet cooks on TV.
Plenty of scientific articles speak of the perils of screen time. There is such a thing as too much. And it is age dependent. Older children can watch a little longer than you ones.
At birth, the human brain contains about 100 billion brain cells. These neurons are mostly unconnected, but that quickly changes through the first three years of life. Learning, from a neuropsychology standpoint, takes place when one neuron communicates with another. This process involves neurotransmitters that “jump” from one brain cell to another across synaptic gaps. The more you learn, the more brain connectedness you have. This process was designed by natural selection to take place in ecological niches similar to the previous 5000 generations of humans. That is, face to face and social. Not with tablets and iPads.
In retrospect, I should never have given her my phone in the first place but what is done is done. Now she masterfully scrolls through YouTube and finds these internet treats even though she cannot type a word. It is as though these video clips find her.
The Inescapability of Screen Time – I Get It.
It started as a simple promise that my wife and I made soon after the birth of our daughter. Like most parents, our plan was to never let our daughter watch videos on a miniature electronic screen. Our social interaction with her would be constant. There would be no need for digital distractions. We would thus fulfill our roles as daddy, mommy, and protectors of everything safe and developmentally sound.
Before we had a child I felt like Jack Black in School of Rock: “Oh! What do they teach in this place?” How are these parents not getting it? Don't let them have tablets! If we noticed young kids staring into phones with parents nearby, we would flash to each other a sarcastic “nice parenting” look. Not anymore.