If you have a child in your house who was born in the last decade, then you know all about the ‘surprise egg’ video phenomenon.
These videos show people with pretty hands and glossy fingernails opening Kinder eggs and ‘blind bags’ that reveal a surprise toy inside.
In the past, my kids were addicted to these videos – as addicted as they are to Hatchimals and Mashums, and all of the other “surprise” toys on the market.
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For a few years, I’ve been wary of these. To me, these toys and videos seem like a subtle introduction to the dopamine high of gambling. My concerns seemed valid, but now, those seem almost trivial.
Because there are bigger issues at play here – fears that I’d never even considered before, have been validated by TED speaker James Bridle.
“These videos are like crack for little kids,” says James. “There’s something about the repetition, the constant little dopamine hit of the reveal that completely hooks them in. Little kids watch these videos over and over again, and if you try to take it away from them, they’ll scream.”
I can attest to his last point – before we upped our vigilance on our kids’ screen time, I noticed my middle daughter turn particularly upset and tantrum-y when her allotted time was over.
James cautions that content providers are using this tech to hack the brains of very small children, in return for advertising revenue. But it gets much more ominous than that.
You know how YouTube functions with an auto-roll feature – where the video automatically moves on to the next in line? Thanks to keyword-jammed video titles and tech designed to leverage the most searched phrases, there are videos we’d prefer our kids don’t see mixed in with the cartoons and surprise egg reveals.
Videos that are filled with violence, gore and sex. Skip ahead to around the 7-minute mark on his video for an illustration of how, within a dozen steps, you can go from a cute video about a train, to a masturbating cartoon character.
Kids can understandably end up traumatised, distressed, scared of the dark and afraid of their favourite cartoons after exposure to this type of content.
“If you have small children, keep them the hell away from YouTube,” James advises.
If you feel that’s going too far, then the YouTube kids app can help moderate the risks, along with screen time boundaries, and your own supervision.
That last point is key, in my view – as allowing your kids any unsupervised screen time is the biggest risk of all.