There is an odd trend in the world of kids entertainment that seemingly defies explanation. This phenomenon is the act of kids watching shows about others kids who are literally doing nothing besides being kids. In a reality-style, DIY-ish video, kids can now watch video clips of other kids, just like them, doing the things that they do everyday. These hugely popular videos showcase a kid doing things like playing with toys in various locations while his parent records it and adds in a narrative commentary about what is happening. Surely the first time you see one of these, as a parent, you’re not quite sure what to make of it. The kids that star in these videos are doing nothing that a regular kid wouldn’t already be doing on a daily basis. So why is it that kids enjoy watching videos of other kids doing what they spend most of their own day doing anyway? To delve deeper into the mind of a child and what a child thinks about, these videos offer some fascinating insight. Although difficult to understand at first for a parent, ultimately there is value here. Finding it is the tough part.
On it’s surface, the videos are a means for the parents to earn income in some capacity. The toys are cited by brand name and are referenced repeatedly, indicating that at the very least, the parent is acquiring these toys free of charge with the understanding they’ll routinely plug the toy throughout the video. While the capitalist nature of these clips is evident, they aren’t shameless product plugs. The product advertisement is consistently present but is ancillary to the actual content of the video. The content is almost strictly about the kid playing with these things in various locations and thus, all the videos are relatively similar yet distinctly different.
There are multiple examples of these ‘kids watching kids be kids’ videos. The Axel Show is literally nothing more than a boy, Axel, and his father, Patrick, going to various outdoor sites and playing with toys. These videos, admittedly rudimentary in content, dialogue, and production value regularly receive upwards of 500,000 YouTube views with many video’s views in the millions. All told, the Axel Show has 154,000 YouTube subscribers and includes nearly 300 videos ranging in length from a few minutes to around fifteen minutes. The two-and-a-half minute trailer alone for this program has 1.2 million views.
A similar program entitled Ryan’s Toy Review is quite clearly intended for the financial benefit of the family however the content is generally much the same. A young kid, Ryan, goes around playing with things while his mom videos him, again, always referencing the toys by brand name and description. In terms of YouTube popularity, Ryan’s Toy Review has existed for a much shorter time period than The Axel Show but is substantially more popular. The parents also state in the description of their channel that most of the toys eventually go to charities. Ryan’s videos routinely get over a million views each and his YouTube channel has about six million subscribers.
Why, however, do kids like this? Most kids have the ability to easily do whatever they see in the videos anyway so why would they rather watch videos of kids being kids rather than go do those things themselves? There are several answers to this question.
First, kids view entertainment not entirely differently from how adults view it. In much the same way an adult will watch a sports game or a reality show, kids view these videos because they understand that what they’re viewing is plausible to their day-to-day lives. Certainly anyone of us can go to a park and throw around a football but very few of us can do it with the precision and fanfare of Tom Brady. Similarly, we can go to bars and clubs and go on dates but we never get to select our mate from a line-up of attractive humans by eliminating them one-by-one through a dramatic rose-giving ceremony. We watch this type of programming for the drama and the spectacle. Children are no different with their entertainment. Watching kids who aren’t them playing with toys they don’t have is, in essence, not much removed from an adult watching QVC, the Food Network, or any daytime talk show.
Secondly, kids covet. In perhaps one of the saddest realizations in the parenting world, kids covet no differently than adults do. They just covet different things. The ‘kids watching kids be kids’ video phenomenon is thus an effective marketing technique without the shameless, in-your-face merchandising plugs because it appeals to desire based on coveting. Even without explicit advertising techniques or cliches, the kids watching these videos identify the toys specifically even with only minimal mention of what the toy is called or branded. Although the content is the human interaction between a kid, his parent, and the toy, the underlying attraction to the videos is a child seeing something he or she wants and doesn’t have.
Thirdly, kids don’t always have involved parents and these videos espouse an atmosphere where not only does the kid being videoed have an abundance of toys, but he has parents willing to stand there with a camera and video them. In this sense, it appeals to the ego of a child but also highlights the fact that many children truly do have involved parents who make ample time to interact with them. In this vein, the videos serve a need as a mental fantasyland for children whose parents would rather just stick an iPad in front of them rather than engage.
While ultimately these videos are materialistic and vain, there is value in them. Perhaps most evident is the creativity they are capable of producing. A kid may try to mimic something he or she sees in the video and in doing so, learns how to engage in a way they may not have before. Perhaps most valuable in these videos is using them as a tool to promote activity. Kids watching kids be kids may actually motivate a kid to get outside and be a kid. As opposed to other inane children’s programming that keeps them visually locked into a screen for hours on end, these videos are generally short and concise.