We stopped watching YouTube in my house.
I don’t say that as some sort of flex. But if you are a parent like I was – one who hates the sound of what felt like the constant screaming of YouTubers blaring from the tablet or TV, or one who hates the endless worry of “what are they actually watching on YouTube when I’m not around” – well then, this is your permission to get rid of YouTube too, if you want.
When my daughter was born nearly 11 years ago, her dad and I decided we would limit her exposure to TV and screens as much as possible. This plan worked rather well until the birth of her brother two and a half years later, when the iPad felt like it became a necessary device in our lives. And with the iPad came YouTube.
It started harmlessly: a little bit Mother Goose Club, nursery rhymes, Blippi. But as both kids got older, the videos of kids unwrapping toys entered the picture. My God, I hated those. But I didn’t fight them. I just put in my invisible ear plugs and tried to ignore the noise and subsequent requests for all the toys that these YouTubers were opening.
As my kids got older, my son started watching videos of kids playing video games. Seriously. I couldn’t believe it was a thing. And my daughter entered the world of makeup tutorials, cheerleader skits, and grown children acting like babies. And these are the videos I know they saw – but who knows what else they saw?
I felt stuck in a world I had allowed to happen. I tried limiting screen time. I would tell them they could watch TV but not YouTube. But I felt stuck.
It probably sounds ridiculous. I am the parent after all. I made the rules. I could just make new ones, right?
The thing is, I didn’t know how to do that. I think I just kept hoping they would lose interest. Or someone else would step in and set the boundary that I couldn’t bring myself to set. YouTube had been my ally before it turned on me, after all. Maybe we would be friends again one day.
And then while reading Glennon Doyle’s book, Untamed, I had an a-ha moment. She talked in one of the chapters of her book about watching her teenage son disappear into the world of social media after he had gotten permission to join the apps. She talked about how he almost wasn’t there anymore, consumed with his phone. She talked about how they went for a walk, and she told him her job was to protect him and be his mother, and that she thought the social media apps were a mistake. And so just like that, he got off social media.
It was so simple and yet so profound to me. It was as if I had received permission to go to my children and say that I needed to change my mind. I realized that I owed them my protection more than I needed them to like me.
I summoned the courage to break the news to them over dinner one night. I nearly cried, because I knew it would be a blow to them, to my son specifically. Screens had been a part of his life since almost the beginning (please don’t judge me, I did the best I could), and YouTube had been there the whole time. I hated the thought of breaking his heart and taking something away from him that had been such a crutch and such an integral part of his childhood.
He cried at the news, and I fought my desire to retract my new boundary for the sake of his comfort.
We deleted YouTube on their devices that night. My daughter was very matter of fact about it and seemed just fine. Maybe it was because she hadn’t been raised on it since birth, who knows. But my son had some difficulty. He had bouts of tears and frustrations several times after the initial conversation. Eventually though, he made peace with it.
Since that initial conversation, we have watched YouTube together a couple of times, always streaming it on the TV instead of devices so I could know exactly what was playing. My daughter, who is in theater, has watched a couple of plays from her theater group that could only be found on YouTube. And my son learned to do origami from some how-to videos we found.
I don’t know what the future holds for YouTube and my children, but I know for right now, I don’t like it and don’t want it to be a part of their lives.
Is there great content on there that would be beneficial to my kids? Of course. Do I want to constantly police it while my kids are watching it? No.
And so for now, we will keep the ban on YouTube.