One of the more curious results of the pandemic has been that the kids have “my turn” less often. They don’t watch TV on the TV, if you will. Oh, they still watch some, and it’s mostly stuff I’ve already written about. Sharing with us, too; does it count that my seven-year-old has gotten into Time Team because it’s something I started watching in the hopes that he wouldn’t get “too distracted” to do his housework because of it. (The fine line of “appropriate to watch around them” and “boring for them to watch” has proved difficult.) We actually now have televisions in two rooms of the house, far enough apart so you can watch your show without hearing the other person’s, and the most sensible investment we’ve had in a while was headphones.
Irene, my four-year-old, mostly watches videos on her tablet, and most of what she watches are things like Team Umizoomi, the stuff she’d watch on the TV in the Before Time. That’s fine; for starters, it means I don’t have to watch it but also know that it’s stuff that’s appropriate for her to watch. However, her big brother Simon is much more into YouTube videos, and I’m a savvy enough parent to be a little more worried about that. Especially because so many of the videos are so annoying to me that I can’t supervise his viewing.
Mostly what Simon wants to watch is gaming videos. As of right now, he wants to be a gamer when he grows up. That’s fine; he doesn’t have to have practical goals yet. As of a little over a year ago, he’d wanted to be a ninja chef. We didn’t shame him for that, either. The issue is that we don’t own any current gaming systems; all we have is the Sega Genesis emulator I bought his dad for his last birthday. He desperately wants a Switch, but there are a bunch of reasons he doesn’t have one. His laptop is from the school and actively blocks gaming content. So he funnels his passion into watching other people play games.
This actually isn’t new. When he was Irene’s age, he would watch a playthrough of Mickey’s Castle of Illusions as often as you’d let him. That was fine; we watched one that didn’t have commentary, and if it was silly, well, I’d still rather watch that than Paw Patrol. I didn’t have to worry about the personality of the person playing the game, because we didn’t even know who it was. All I knew about them was that there were a few things they could’ve done better—not that I could have done better, you understand, but that there were things they missed.
That’s not how it is now. I believe this started with someone called Zebra Gamer, or ZG. Simon loves him so much that his favourite animal is now the zebra. I’m not sure how he discovered the videos initially. I know his videos were accessible through Amazon’s kids’ programming; the kids’ tablets are the cheap Amazon ones. Now that he’s got a school Chromebook, he’s got YouTube and exposure to a wider array of gamers. Which, yes, I’m worried about, but I have a hard time watching the videos with him because I find all of them desperately annoying.
It’s a problem. I know that. This is, honestly, the place I’m feeling like the worst parent, because I know the dangers of letting my son on YouTube unsupervised but I still absolutely cannot make myself supervise him while he watches these things. Believe me, I’ve heard the stories of what kids can be seeing. I know what he could be taking in with more detail about Minecraft that I’m ever going to care about. And because I don’t care about Among Us, I can’t even make myself listen to the explanations of what’s going on in these videos. Because almost all of it is details of these games that I just do not care about.
Maybe I need a translator. Someone who also likes YouTube gaming videos and can tell me that the people Simon’s watching aren’t toxic and teaching him to be alt-right while he’s still in second grade and doesn’t understand what that even means. Certainly, it’ll be too late the first time he calls me an SJW, and I get that. I hope the conversations I have with him and the way we live our lives will get him to react to toxic videos with disgust and outrage, but I can’t promise he will. So this has to be something I work with him on, I guess.
The problem, I guess, is that this is a constantly shifting thing they watch. I can’t see it once, be aware of it, and ignore it from then on. And I hate most of these videos, so that’s what I want to do. (Frankly, I find no few of the gamers’ voices really annoying, which doesn’t help.) But I don’t want to forbid my son from watching them, even if I thought I could enforce that, because he does love gaming and it is something he enjoys watching. We’ll figure it out, me and his dad.