Children across the world are becoming mesmerised by YouTube videos of people 'unboxing' toys.
That's right – videos of people opening the latest Frozen doll. Or unveiling the new Hello Kitty house. Or unwrapping endless Kinder eggs. It's kind of like going to a really spoilt child's birthday party, only without the opportunity to break something. (I'm kidding. Obviously.)
These videos are unbelievably popular. Unboxing channel DisneyCollector has recently become the most watched YouTube show in the United States.
Then there's Evan, the eight-year-old who has made over £800,000 out of YouTube's EvanTubeHD channel.
So, it seems we're raising a generation of kids even more consumerist than ourselves. Which is a bit scary. In fact, this whole unboxing thing started with 'adults', wanting to see the latest iPhone or PlayStation taken out of its shiny box and unwrapped. Tech porn, effectively.
I thought it was bad enough that our oldest daughter, at five years old, browses Amazon looking for toys to put on her Christmas list. She hasn't yet discovered 'unboxing', but it can only be a matter of time. Will she get hooked on this too? Why is it so addictive? I tracked down one of the makers of these videos to find out.
Tracey and Paul run MGTracey, a UK-based YouTube channel which has 30,000 subscribers and 40 million views.
They started the channel off as an accompaniment to selling toys on eBay, when children and parents were asking questions about a particular toy they were selling, wanting to know what sounds it made. They were overwhelmed by the response.
"We were surprised just how many times the video was viewed and how many questions we received about it," says Tracey. "We continued to upload simple toy videos and really enjoyed the feedback we received on them from children and mums all around the world. We now try and review toys and comics that our subscribers request.
"The toy unboxing and surprise opening videos are overwhelmingly by USA based YouTubers, so we thought we could fly the UK flag and show toys that are popular our side of the pond.
"Children of all ages and all languages love watching surprise openings and unboxing videos. They sometimes watch them over and over again. Their feedback shows us they get the same sort of excitement watching us open toys, as they do opening their own gifts on birthdays and Christmas."
They say that parents also watch videos of toys as research before buying. How-to videos are also popular.
"Toys are a global common currency and interesting to children and parents all around the world. Our third biggest country for views is Vietnam," says Tracey.
So, I can see why you might want to watch a video before buying a toy. And I can understand the 'how-to' clips. But watching them over and over again? DisneyCollector's Frozen Kinder Eggs clip had me grinding my teeth. I don't LIKE watching other people open stuff. It makes my OCD control freakery kick right in.
I try to show our five-year-old an unboxing video. She finds it boring. So I ask around. Is this really a thing? Amy, who has two daughters aged five and two, says they enjoy watching the surprise egg clips: "They both like seeing what the girl gets next in the eggs. I find it weird to be honest."
Obviously, I'm not the right demographic. And many parents say their children love these videos – so much so, that it can become compulsive. Parents are advised to limit the time they allow children to spend watching these clips – just as they should limit any screen time.
Sakina, who has a two-year-old daughter and a new baby, says her little girl is 'totally obsessed' with Disney Collector. "She loves them," she says. However, she says there is more to it than simply watching a toy being unwrapped.
"We bought her some play doh with the machine for ice cream and she makes ice lollies and decorates them perfectly, and she mimics the lady, she says 'Hi, this is Disney Collector with play doh, today we will make ice lollies'," says Sakina. "We limit it and she doesn't mind.
But is it really any different from what many of us did as children – flicking through toy catalogues and dreaming about what Santa might bring us? Well, yes, I think it is. Watching videos again and again is more compulsive, it's more addictive, and it's more time-consuming. And all screen time is not created equal – even the godforsaken My Little Pony cartoons my eldest daughter adores have a plot, of sorts, teaching her about story-telling and friendships, while they try to flog her the latest Rainbow Dash or Twilight Sparkle.
Whatever your opinion, it's becoming clear that YouTube is where many kids are to be found at present – and it's something parents need to be aware of. Whatever they're watching there, you need to be on it. We discovered this when our toddler developed a passion for watching In The Night Garden clips on YouTube. Iggle Piggle snuff videos are NOT APPROPRIATE.
There is a YouTube 'safety mode' which you can activate at the bottom of any YouTube page, which will limit the really dodgy stuff, and there are all sorts of other parental filters you can get hold of. But the only way to be certain your child isn't watching something iffy, is to keep a close eye on them while they're surfing, rather than using it as a babysitter. And make sure your Amazon one-click purchase isn't switched on, while you're at it.
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