How Do I Steer My Middle Schooler Away From YouTube Ads?

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Dear Miriam,

My child is in middle school and, like her peers, spends a lot of time watching YouTube. Nearly every time she sees an ad for something, she wants to buy it, or, rather, she wants me to buy it. I’m considering investing in YouTube Premium to cut down on the number of ads she sees, but I’m wondering if that’s the right decision, or if I should be spending more time with her discussing how not to be so persuaded by the things she sees. What do you think?


Avoiding the Ads


Dear Avoiding,

What you’re describing is not an either/or. If you think that investing in YouTube Premium will create an overall better media experience for your family, then it’s probably a worthwhile expense and one that should be considered like any other subscription-based service that your family might use to watch shows or enjoy content. But paying for this service is not a substitute for discussing false advertising, susceptibility, influencers, budgeting, and any number of other concrete conversations with your daughter about how to be a critical and independent thinker.

When she asks you for something, try to dig into why she wants it. Is it because she’s actually hungry, or because those recorded cheese pulls are designed to be incredibly enticing? IIs it because of an ad that shows up in the middle of a video, or because of sponsored content promoted by a YouTuber who she enjoys watching and looks up to? Even paying to get rid of the first kind of ads does nothing about the second kind, which are baked into nearly every video our kids are watching. Does she want it because the thing looks like something she would actually enjoy, or because there’s some kind of status attached, like there’s a limited number available, or the YouTuber will mention the names of the first 100 people who buy it, or someone at school has the thing?

The only way you’ll know the answers to these questions is if you spend some time watching YouTube with her. I know this may sound incredibly demoralizing, both because the content she enjoys may be uninteresting to you and because this is likely a way she entertains herself without needing adult attention, but, actually, she does need adult attention around this! You aren’t equipped to discuss how influencers are, in fact, influencing her, if you don’t see it yourself and have the knowledge to have informed conversations with her, not based on, “This is stupid and these people are frauds,” but based on really trying to enter the world she’s inhabiting. 

Lest anyone reading this feels like my advice should be, “Watch less YouTube,” I’ll just come out and say that that seems like the least likely available option. YouTube is incredibly pervasive (and, yes, good at capturing audiences) and just like TV in the 1980s and ’90s, ads are part of the experience. Sure, the nature of those ads has changed, but the principles are the same. Rather than making your daughter feel bad for wanting the things she sees or trying to avoid her seeing them entirely, create an environment where you can talk openly about capitalism, consumerism, peer pressure, and making good and independent decisions. While those life lessons are worth more than any subscription service, the subscription service may be worth it, too.

Be well,