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Xploding Unicorn: Watching my kids watch other kids do nothing
“On some level, I understand why my kids fell for those YouTube videos. If we don’t lust after material goods we don’t need, the communists win. “
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Meet James Breakwell, (AKA @XplodingUnicorn on Twitter) IndyStar’s new parent columnist. Breakwell went viral last year with his self-deprecating jokes about the trials of parenthood. Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar
When I was a kid, my dad tried to ban “The Simpsons” in our house. I don’t remember his reasoning. Maybe he thought the Simpsons represented the moral decay of society, or perhaps he was just freaked out by people with four fingers. (Never trust anyone without a pinkie.)
Whatever his logic, my dad’s ban stuck for all of 10 minutes. I watched “The Simpsons” for my entire childhood, and it turned me into the man I am today.
I promised myself long ago that, as an adult, I would continue to ignore my dad’s good advice. I planned to let my kids watch whatever they wanted, and for the most part I’ve stuck to that. My four daughters have watched angry townsfolk battle sentient furniture and a wheezing space warlord turn his bearded mentor into a pile of laundry. You know, the classics.
Then my kids stumbled across something so insidious that even I had to balk. I’m not talking about “The Walking Dead” or Harry Potter. If you don’t teach your kids to fight off zombies and dark wizards, who will? But my kids discovered something far more dangerous: YouTube.
The problem wasn’t that my children were looking up graphic or explicit videos. A little emotional scarring would just toughen them up. Instead, my kids were pulling up rated-G videos formulated to hit their brains like heroin. Once they saw one video, they wanted to watch 275 more. And they didn’t have to go to a seedy alley to get their next fix. At least drug addicts get fresh air.
My kids first got hooked by unboxing videos. They stared transfixed as a pair of hands opened toys while a narrator talked about how great it would be to own whatever was buried under those 16 layers of packaging. My daughters were literally watching commercials. When my children were born, I thought they could never do anything to disappoint me as long as they were happy. Clearly I was wrong.
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On some level, I understand why my kids fell for those videos. If we don’t lust after material goods we don’t need, the communists win. But my kids weren’t just fantasizing about toys they wanted. I also caught them watching unboxing videos for toys they already had.
When they opened those packages for themselves, the process didn’t involve steady hands or professional narration. My kids tore through those boxes like wolverines that smelled a hidden pork chop. Then they played with their new toys for a few minutes before forgetting they existed, at least until they discovered YouTube months later. Maybe they watched those unboxing videos for the same reason married people watch “Say Yes to the Dress.” Secretly, everyone wants a do-over.
I never officially banned unboxing videos in my house, but I did forbid my kids from viewing them in my presence. Sitting next to someone who’s watching a perpetual commercial is about as enjoyable as Chinese water torture, but without the side benefit of a free bath.
But before I was forced to do anything more drastic, my kids moved on to a new and even more horrible form of video. Now my daughters watch a brother-and-sister team on YouTube who compete at random challenges. Never mind that each of my kids has real-life siblings they could compete with at any time. My daughters would rather ignore each other while watching two kids on the Internet play together. Healthy sibling relationships are best enjoyed from a distance.
I thought that was as lazy as my children could get, but then they started watching those same two YouTube kids play video games. That’s right: My kids are living vicariously through other kids who are also sitting around staring at a screen. My daughters have achieved peak sloth, and they’re not even out of grade school. I expect great things from them in the field of doing nothing.
The worst part is I can’t even criticize my kids for it. Well, I guess I can because I just did for several paragraphs. But I can’t criticize them without being a hypocrite. I could play a pickup basketball game, but I’d rather watch the NBA on TV. I can’t ban my kids from YouTube unless I ban myself from cable TV. I’d rather set myself on fire.
Most parents fear their kids will imitate something they see on the Internet. I wish my children would. Please, please, play video games. Play with your siblings. Play with the toys you already unboxed yourselves. Play ANYTHING. The only thing worse than a having a mundane life is watching someone else live that mundane life for you. Our time on Earth is too short for second-hand boredom.
Unfortunately, I can’t take YouTube off the table altogether. My work on social media involves pumping out content to every corner of the Internet, including YouTube. My kids and I make videos together of varying quality every week. But the final product isn’t the point.
What matters is that for a few brief minutes, my kids actually do something. My kids see it differently. They would much rather watch other people’s videos rather than make videos themselves because other people’s videos don’t involve me. Seeing me in real life is bad enough.
But what do I know? I’m just the guy who learned how to parent from Homer Simpson.
Follow James Breakwell on Twitter (@XplodingUnicorn) or Facebook (Facebook.com/ExplodingUnicorn).
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