It’s a tired old argument when people say that today’s kids are having a childhood that is, in some way, worse than their own. It’s the source of a million tired images, shared by aunts online, of how kids aren’t making memories if they’re not doing some hobby they did when they were a kid.
And yet I’m going to indulge in it right now.
Let’s talk about television. I won’t argue that whatever cartoons I watched as a kid are better than modern cartoons. Kids shows often don’t hold up very well when you go back to them as an adult. No, I’m talking about the manner in which kids access their cartoons.
In my day, you had a television station with a set schedule that you had to deal with. They had a variety of shows, good and bad, which they aired for the kids, interspersed with toy commercials that were often more interesting than the shows themselves. As a kid, television had an end point - eventually cartoons would transition into something that was not a cartoon and thus bad.
With the rise of streaming replacing broadcast television, you don’t have the same setup. Instead, you get whatever show you want, whenever you want, which is great if you’re an adult with self-control, not so great if you’re just a kid who wants to watch cartoons all day. When I was a kid, that was impossible, you were forced to find new entertainment because you were fresh out of cartoons.
It’s on parents, of course, to set limits on screen time and things of that nature. But it’s also easier for parents to convince kids to stop watching TV when the TV isn’t made for you anymore.
It’s also easier to have limits on the amount of TV you watch when your TV weighs a million pounds and you can’t take it with you. Between phones and tablets TVs are everywhere.
The other problem is that a lot of kids are being entertained by YouTube, and that service has issues. Lots of those issues are inherent in the service’s design - it’s supposed to be something where anyone can put up any video. Great, for adults, who are going to change to some other video. Bad for kids who need some oversight into what they’re watching.
The main problem with the service comes down to what they suggest kids should watch. The weird vagaries of the YouTube algorithm, which has pushed Mariya Takeuchi’s Plastic Love to be one of the most popular songs on the service, mean that kids are pushed a lot of videos based on how they hit the algorithm. The result is that you get a bunch of weird cartoons where Spider-man and characters from Frozen meet in a toilet. They hit the algorithm, but they aren’t actually good choices for kids.
This isn’t a problem with many of the paid streaming services, which typically have a fenced-off kids area with appropriate content. And parents, being parents, can inevitably set limits.
I am not really nostalgic for the broadcast model so much as I miss how it designed in the limits. For all the talk about how kids need less “screen time,” it only becomes an issue now because kids don’t have a reason to put down the screen.