Ursula Carlson: The scoop from iGen grandkids

My grandchildren were spending the night and we were considering whether to watch something on TV or do “performances” ourselves when something triggered Wesley to narrate a video called “Johny Johny Yes Papa.” Here it is: A small boy wakes up in the night, goes to the kitchen, grabs a jar of sugar and as he spoons some into his mouth, his dad turns on the light, walks in and says, “Johny Johny?”

“Yes, Papa?”

“Eating sugar?”

“No, Papa.”

“Telling lies?”

“No, Papa.”

“Open your mouth.”

“Ha ha ha!” the son laughs.

Astounded, I stared at Wesley, “Do you realize that video is featured in an article I just read in this magazine?” and I pointed to The Atlantic which lay on the coffee table behind him. At that point, all three of them said, “Read it, Grammi!” So I did, though not the entire piece.

Written by Alexis C. Madrigal, the article is “Raised by You Tube.” Madrigal gives us the history of ChuChu, a video production company in Chennai, India. Its CEO, Vinoth Chandar, is a guy we might characterize as a video hobbyist who made it big. His company, ChuChu TV, has 19 million subscribers, compared to Sesame Street’s 4 million, which is telling.

ChuChu never set out to be educational programming, but its creators wanted to produce “wholesome” entertainment with a “dose of moral instruction.” The “Johny Johny” video, with 1.5 billion views, is “one of the most watched videos of any kind, ever.”

Popularity counts, when it comes to making money. So ChuChu has inevitably been guided by what people want. Parents wanted diversity, no guns, no children sleeping in communal beds. ChuChu obliged.

Since Madrigal wants to know the effects of these videos, he speaks to Colleen Russo Johnson, co-director of UCLA’s Center for Scholars & Storytellers. An expert on kids’ media, here’s what she told Madrigal about not only “Johny Johny” but a few other ChuChu videos: “Bright lights, extraneous elements, and faster pacing.” The implications are serious because “all that movement risks distracting kids from any educational work the videos might do.” In fact, for kids to learn, a video has to unfold slowly, the way a book does when it’s read to a child. That way the video focuses attention on the relevant visuals, not the distracting ones, and so helps comprehension.

Early education specialists also point out “most important for kids under 2 is rich interaction with humans and their actual environments,” and therefore any video watching on their part is simply “killing time.” Yet a small study at Einstein Medical Center found You Tube was popular among device-using children under the age of 2. And that was in 2015. We assume You Tube is even more popular now.

So what, you might wonder, did my grandchildren have to say about the “Johny Johny” video? Wes and Abby are 7 and Wes said, “I think it’s stupid,” and Abby chimed in with “Lying and sugar are bad.” Savannah, age 11, suggested we look at the actual video, which we did, plus its “take-offs,” as Wes phrased it. Fair to say, we ended up making fun of them, especially the one where a married couple play the same type of “lying game” which the kids said, “sets a poor example.”

In a world where the market dictates, where opinion and popularity matter most, where all truths are seemingly “self-evident,” even un-truths, where ignorance is a virtue, surely I’m not the only one who’s thankful for experts like Colleen Russo Johnson and journalists like Madrigal who give us facts and truth we can be guided by?

Ursula Carlson, Ph.D., is professor emerita at Western Nevada College.


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