Children and Screens held the #AskTheExperts webinar “Advertising and Kids: Let’s Take a (Commercial) Break” on November 18th, 2020 at 12:00pm ET via Zoom. The webinar addressed the hows and whats of exposure to digital advertising and marketing and its influence on children’s behavior and health.

 An interdisciplinary panel of leading experts engaged in an informative discourse about recent changes in digital marketing, and research about the quantity and content of ads to which children are exposed, including specific tactics used by companies to intentionally manipulate children’s behavior. The group also reported on the effects of certain marketing practices on children’s and teens’ physical and psychological well-being, the existing regulatory landscape, and ways to keep up with new media and technologies as advertisers continue to raise the stakes of how children are being targeted.


  • Vicky Rideout

    President VJR Consulting
  • Josh Golin

    Executive Director Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
  • Matthew Lapierre, PhD

    Assistant Professor of Communication University of Arizona
  • Jenny Radesky, MD

    Assistant Professor Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics, University of Michigan Medical School


Welcome everybody and thank you for joining us for our newest installment of Ask the Experts, a popular webinar series from Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development. Children and Screens is a leading interdisciplinary curator, convener, and grant maker for scientific research and a public educator in the field of child and adolescent development and digital media use. I am Doctor Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra and as institute’s president and founder, I am proud to share with you today’s important topic, advertising and kids. During this webinar we will share the latest research on digital marketing and advertising strategies including how companies target children to influence their behavior. Our panelists have reviewed the questions you submitted and will answer as many as possible during and after their presentations. If you have additional questions during the workshop please type them into the Q&A box at the bottom of your screen and indicate whether or not you’d like to ask your question live on camera or if you’d prefer that the moderator read your question. We’re recording today’s workshop and hope to upload a video onto YouTube in the coming days. All registrants will receive a  link to our YouTube channel where you will find clips from our past webinars. It is now my great pleasure to introduce our moderator, Vicky Rideout, President of VJR Consulting. She has directed numerous studies about media use among children and teens, including studies on screen media use among infants and toddlers, educational media use, social media use among teens, digital equity, and use of digital media for civic and political engagement. She’s also developed several high profile media based social change campaigns including the hashtag no more campaign to stop domestic violence and sexual assault, welcome Vicky. 

Vicky Rideout:

Hi everybody, um, hi Pam and everybody, thank you so much for having me here today. I’m actually really really excited to be moderating this panel today, um, every one of these panelists is somebody who I would absolutely love to be able to spend an hour talking to, so it’s a real joy to be able to accept Pam’s invitation and moderate the discussion. 

You know even before this pandemic we all know,um, what essential role media were playing in children’s lives, whether it was tweens and teens spending about seven hours a day with screens or younger kids two and a half to three hours a day, it’s a huge component of their lives and almost the entire children’s media ecosystem, not all of it but almost all of it, exists as a venue for advertising. Advertising and marketing is the foundation on which the whole media structure is built, it’s the engine that finances and drives it, content is created whether it’s TV shows, movies, YouTube channels, video games, or social media platforms, content is created for the purpose of attracting children’s attention so that that attention and data about the children can then be sold to advertisers. So good, bad, or neutral that is just a reality. And last year, uh, the year before last actually, more than four billion dollars was spent advertising to children and teens in the U.S. and we’re here today to talk about that issue of children and advertising and we’re gonna look at the issue from a variety of viewpoints, from the impact on kids, um, and from the impact on media content creators and media content providers, uh, and so on. So there are obviously concerns about the amount of marketing and advertising that kids are exposed to both in general and in terms of materialism, consumerist demands, but also in terms of specific products like food and beverage marketing and its relationship with childhood obesity or the marketing of products like alcohol or vaping to teens. There’s also the issue of companies collecting data about children and youth through media that they use and then monetizing those data, uh, to serve additional more targeted advertising and marketing to them. To address concerns about advertising and marketing to youth, uh, some people, some experts argue for more media literacy education for kids, specifically advertising literacy education. Others point, uh, more to the role of parents, uh, to monitor and limit their kids exposure to advertising, some focus on the need for advertisers, tech companies, the media platforms themselves to adopt policies to protect kids, and still others say we need our government to adopt public policies to address these issues. 

When I first began working in the field of kids and media our primary concern was television advertising, thirty second ads placed in kids TV shows. Now advertising is targeted to the young person’s demographic profile, or their location, to their previous actions on media, it’s interactive, meaning the child can actually engage with the advertising content, play with it, give the advertiser information directly, it’s viral meaning the kid may receive it from a friend and send it to their friends. It’s often seamlessly integrated into whatever the content is the kid is using whether it’s video social media posts, games, etcetera, so it’s less distinct from the rest of the content. And it often includes incentives for watching or engaging with it, like you can’t play the game unless you watch it, or you earn extra rewards or points for playing on it, so it’s a way more prevalent, sophisticated, powerful, uh, medium than it was just, you know, 10, 15 years ago and that’s why I am really so eager to hear from each of our panelists today. And we’ve got half an hour after the presentations for questions from all of you, some people, some folks have sent their questions in advance, some may turn to others to ask their questions live and if you have a question you want to add as Pam said just, excuse me, just put it in the Q&A box on your screen. So first up it’s my great pleasure to introduce my colleague and friend Matt Lapierre. Matt is an assistant professor of communication at the University of Arizona. His research includes investigations of the influence of marketing use on children’s consumer behavior, the development of children’s persuasion awareness and susceptibility, how media engagement influences gun attitudes among adults and children, and the role smartphones play in shaping our interpersonal relationships and well-being. So please join me in welcoming Matt Lapierre.

Matt Lapierre:

Thank you so much Vicki, um, and thank you for the introduction, uh, I’m going to use my time in talking to you today about, uh, sort of the baselines and the controversies regarding children and advertising cause I think this will segway nicely into what our later panelists will talk about and so we really want to understand like where is this all coming from, now we’ve always had advertising, um, like if you go back to ancient, uh, Roman, um, excavations you’ll find advertising there. Uh, but the advertising industry as we know it doesn’t get its start until the early 1900s. Um, and so part of that is because of the work done in the Industrial Revolution, so we have this surplus of goods and the people who make them need ways to sort of reach consumers. Um, you know, you got factories filled with stuff and we’ve got to find a way to get it out there. And so this modern advertising industry is born. And you know at first it’s a very must focused on, um, so parents more specifically the breadwinners who are the targets of advertising. Um, and it takes time for the sort of advertising infrastructure to sort of to focus on children. Right and it happens slowly, uh, so in the 1910s, 1920s, um, we get magazines like Boys’ Life, um, which begins to sell directly to children. And it’s important to sort of preface this with noting that in many ways it was considered gauche or rude to sort of sell too much. Where today advertisements were supposed to engage you in a particular way and so we think of that now as so quaint because, you know you might encounter advertising if you go into a bathroom which is sort of, or, in other sort of sacred places, we’re not used to seeing it. And so this took time, to sort of break down these norms. So you know we get magazines in the 1910s, 1920s and then as media becomes easier for, uh, participants to process or audiences to process, um, particularly children, um advertising becomes a bit more intrusive. So, 1930s and 40s, we get radio ads directed towards kids, when TV, you know sort of becomes the dominant medium, um, we get things like Mickey Mouse Club or Clubhouse in which advertising is you know it’s easier to present ads to children and then, you know, for many of the people in the audience today will remember Saturday morning cartoons and sort of the ability, so this was a, I guess an innovation because it you had an entire audience which was only kids, right so they were sort of um, you know, segmented into a particular time of day, you had afternoon, after school cartoons but this was a time in which you only had that child audience. And since then like, you know, the children advertising infrastructure has gotten more sophisticated. We have, by the 80s and 90s we have entire channels dedicated to, uh, child audiences which is, you know, entirely focused on delivering advertisers to this audience. Advertisement becomes intrusive, it ends up in schools and we get more sophisticated techniques to sort of reach kids. So we have, you know an entire universe of characters that are created just for children and to entice children. And so what’s important to note is that, so you know, what the the primary concerns with this, right like so, socializing as consumers might have some benefit, right, um, children learning how to how to deal with the consumer world, you know, if they are going to be encountering these messages throughout their lifespan, right, it might be helpful to sort of that they learn to cope with this, um, but there are concerns with, uh, reaching children as consumers. And so I want to identify three of them, uh, and the first is that developmentally speaking children are likely a vulnerable audience, uh, and that we have certain protections legally, and there also is sort of a moral question as to whether or not you can, uh, try to persuade people who might not have the full capabilities to sort of fight back. Um, second advertising encourages unhealthy eating, now as Vicky noted at the outset is that advertising has also been linked to other harmful behaviors like drinking and smoking, um, and those are sort of, those are definitely morally grey areas but here we’re talking about, you know, like which is perfectly seen as a normal activities, selling foods to kids. A question is then, well does it encourage them to engage in dietary behaviors which are likely not beneficial for them. And then finally, advertising creates conflict between children and their caretakers, um, and let’s look, we’re going to look at a bit of each of these, not go into a full sort of discussion about what’s going on, the point here is just to show where these controversies come from. And sort of what we know about the basics about each of these. 

So first, children’s immature cognitive and affective skills put them at a disadvantage. Now, because we’ve likely grown up in a consumer environment it might seem quaint to think that advertising is difficult to understand. Um, but it is, it is quite a complex thing, uh, is that you know with an advertisement you have to decipher what is the person’s intent, what’s the communicator’s intent. Um, we don’t do this naturally, it takes time to develop these skills. And not only that when we think about commercial messages they are designed for maximal effectiveness. And so that the audiences that they reach reach, um are likely to, like they’ve tested messages they know what is going to likely get the best reactions, um, and so what does that mean, it means that children need to be well versed in sort of like understanding it and sort of maybe being able to counteract, uh, what they see. And so I’ll just talk about some of the research that I’ve done,um, to sort of look at these issues. The first is that knowing, now I look at the research, is that they don’t easily understand the purpose of advertising. Is that, and this is not something that can just be simply learned, it seems as if, and this is work that I’ve done but also I can point to work by Anna Mcalester and Moses and Baldwin at the University of Oregon who showed that, who argued that children have developmental competencies that they need to sort of help them get there, um, is that, we have this concept in developmental psychology called, or cognitive development called the theory of mind, which is a child’s ability to sort of understand other people’s intentions and beliefs. This doesn’t develop, this isn’t something that children have out of the womb, it takes time for their brain to mature to be able to do this. And what we can, and what we’ve seen is that if children don’t have this ability yet, they struggle to understand what advertising is supposed to do, is it supposed to inform me, or does it make me want to like something. Um, and so that way children are likely vulnerable. 

Another thing we’ve seen is that, in research that children have difficulties resisting advertising messages. Uh, and this is another problem of cognitive and affective development, that takes time, so children, um, as many of the people in this audience have experienced as children or have seen in their own children, um, is that when you see, or when you think about your own exposure when you saw an ad, the idea of like shouting to mom or dad, can I have that, can I have that, can I have that, we’re actually speaking about a developmental competency, and the ability to sort of like stop and take a break, to stop and think. Um, which takes time to develop and advertising in children encounter these messages, they don’t likey have those skills to be able to sort of put some breaks on and think carefully about what’s going on. And so, we’ve seen this in research as well.

Second, child focused advertising encourages unhealthy eating. Um, now I’m indebted to the work of my friend and colleague, Dale Kunkel for doing a lot of research on this, um, and he’s shown that, you know, when we look at the history of advertising, you know when we look at the foods that are advertised to kids, the fast majority of them are for food that children should likely not eat all the time. That they are sort of treats, and what we don’t find when we look at advertising to kids, food advertising to kids, a lot of the foods you would want children to eat, like fruits and vegetables. Right which are likely foods which are high in sugar high in fat, um and what we see is that, uh, this is what sort of dominates the advertising landscape for children. Now, I’m going to be talking about packaging here, um, product packaging, but there’s lots of links to television advertising and online advertising, and so we know that foods that target children are less nutritious, so, I’ll take about a study I did with some undergraduate students of mine, is what we did is went to a supermarket, we randomly selected products, and then we looked at the marking that was on the packaging and we looked at the nutritional content of the product. And what we find is that those packages that had lots of child friendly marketing cues, so like cartoon characters, offers of a giveaway, colorful fonts, silly flavors, is that those packages tended to have increased sugar per serving, um, and I don’t think i’m revealing a huge dietary secret, but like consuming lots of sugar is not good, especially for developing bodies, um, and what we see is that, you know, when we market to kids those foods tend to be less healthy. Second, children respond very strongly to friendly advertising cues. And so this is a study that I did with some colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania in which we asked children to try cereal. Um, and we had a twist, is that for one set of children tasted a cereal that had a cartoon character on it, the other did not. And when we asked children how much did they like the taste of the cereal the children who saw the character said that that one tasted better. Uh, and so, once again we see that foods targeting children are less nutritious but also and this is what other researchers  have found, like the Rud Center at the University of Connecticut, have shown that children respond very powerfully to these child-friendly advertising cues. Third, is that advertising to children creates conflict between children and caregivers. Now, what we know, and we have a long line of research going back to the 1970s showing this, is that children ask for products they see advertised and argue with parents about those purchases. Is that, you know, the more children see these the more they ask, and this shouldn’t be a shocking finding, why, because why would advertisers spend billions each year to do this, unless it worked. Um, so that’s what we see, is that it works as designed, children ask for the products that they see. Um, in fact a recent study that we did with colleagues of mine at Wake Forest University is that this might create stress for parents and this shouldn’t be a shocking finding, is that kids who ask for a lot of product, kids who engage in a lot of conflict with parents about products, tend argue more, tend to argue more and then that produces parental stress. Um, and once again this is all bracketed by the fact that we accept the fact that, um, children are a vulnerable audience, well this, this might be a problematic practice, okay. And so, you know, we have this child watching, and typically when we talked about this, we talk about children watching TV, but children have moved to smaller screens. And these issues have become even more salient as, as children have moved to smaller and more mobile screens. Is that the concerns that I’ve addressed in this presentation, um, are likely more problematic now. Why, well because advertising has become significantly more subtle in these online spaces, where you can watch an influencer, um where it’s basically a thirty minute commercial for a product. Rather than these sort of like overt messages the child would encounter on TV. And then finally, parent monitoring has become more difficult. As screens have gotten smaller it is harder for parents to follow what their children are looking at online. And with that, there are, you know, parents can no longer co-view, as opposed to a television where you might be able to see what a child is watching, a phone with headphones you might never know. And so, these advertising concerns only become more important as we think about where advertising and children is going to go in the future. And with that I’ll give control back to my friend Vicky. 

Vicky Rideout:

 Hi, thank you so much Matt, I really appreciate it, and I’m going to ask one question now, and then move to the next panelists, but so my question to you Matt has to do with parents, which you focus on a lot and you know I’m just kind of wondering whether it is, some of the folks who are participating and the attendees have sent in questions, and a common theme was as a parent what can I do? One of the questions was, you know, what small steps can parents take to reduce their children’s exposure to these advertisements. And you know it’s a good question, but I also wonder, big picture, is it realistic to expect parents to be moderating, be the moderating influence between advertisers and their kids?

Matt Lapierre:

 No, I think over like the last, this is something that has been recently developing for me, um in terms of my own perspective on advertising in children, is that  the practice of giving parents helpful tips is an error that maybe should be put on the backburner, and we need to think more broadly about what can be done at institutional levels.

Vicky Rideout: Right

Matt Lapierre: 

Is that yeah, there are things I could recommend that parents do but the harm is greater than that, um, and once again we’re going to find out more when Jenny and Josh talk, um, about this, like I mean the concerns I’m talking about seem quaint now, like when I talk about television and advertising it’s kind of adorable, 

Vicky Rideout: Right

Matt Lapierre: 

that these are the concerns, um and like maybe parents could do something then but I think when we look at an online system,  parents need much more help, they need institutional help to sort of deal with these things. 

Vicki Rideout: 

Okay, um, now I’m going to introduce our next speaker who is Doctor Jenny Radesky, Jenny is a Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School. Her NIH funded research focuses on the use of mobile interactive technology, um hold on, my introduction just disappeared, there we go, focuses on the use of mobile interactive technology by parents and young children and how this relates to child self-regulation and parent child interaction. She was also the the lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics, physician paper which was issued just this past July titled digital advertising and children, so I think that will be really interesting to hear more about that and she was the lead author of a new study, that just came out yesterday that she did for Common Sense Media, titled Young Kids and YouTube How Toys, Games, and Ads Dominate their viewing for which she and her team include and coded more than 1600 YouTube videos. So it is my pleasure to welcome Doctor Jenny Radesky. 

Jenny Radesky:

 Thanks Vicki, um, can you see my screen okay, I think I tripped you up when I screen shared, so sorry about that. 

Vicki Rideout: O, not at all

Jenny Radesky: 

Alright well hi everyone, um, it’s nice to be here with this great panel, um, I’m going to be leading off of where the last talk ended, by exploring how we can think about children and advertising and broaden the definition of what we think of when it comes to ads and marketing towards our kids. Um, and I’m going to talk about that Common Sense Media report that Vicki just mentioned. So these are those adorable, uh, advertisements that Matt was just talking about, this is what we grew up with, many of us where these, uh, the idea of advertising was these discrete, uh, thirty second commercials that were served to kids at regular, predictable intervals, they were very persuasive but they were easier to identity even though with kids developmental vulnerabilities and differences, they, you know, even the youngest had a hard time recognizing them. I remember one time being on an airplane with my two year old, who was screaming that he wanted the vacuum TV show back, and he had just seen an ad for a toy vacuum or something like that and I was like this is facentating you thought that it was an actual show that was only thirty seconds. Um, but I want parents who are watching this to understand that when you are thinking about how marketers are trying to, you know, persuade your children, you need to broaden your definition of advertising to be about about the influencers, that they are developing relationships with, their parasocial relationships, you know over media, the kids really trust and love the characters that they are watching on TV or on YouTube and when those characters themselves are persuading purchases or are endorsing different products that matters a lot, and it’s a lot harder for kids to identify. You also need to be thinking about how branded content is kind of making its way into the app store, where apps themselves are trying to build relationships between kids and brands, um you need to think about the way apps themselves, even if they’re not a branded character are monetizing your children’s digital play. So one way we’ve explored this, um through a content analysis of apps that we installed from Google Play, is that we saw tons of ads being served through kids apps, that we downloaded from the 5 and under designed for family section, and we found lots of banner ads that had age inappropriate content, like these ten bipolar facts. Um, we saw these pop up ads that disrupt, uh, in the middle of playing and we’re really hard to x out, like this tiny little x you can see in the corner of Run Sausage Run, wouldn’t appear until 20 seconds after watching. And sometimes you had to actually play, um, the ad to get it to go down. And then here’s another example of monetization, where  Masha and the Bear app, this app is so much easier to play if you buy the candy tokens, um, and you can even watch an advertisement video to get more of the candy tokens, so lots of these ways that were kind of indirectly persuading kids to make purchases or to click on adds, or to install new apps. There was sometimes some overt pressure to make in app purchases like in Strawberry Shortcake Sweetshop, um, she says in a voiceover, “you can be more precise with Raspberry Torte’s artsy icing pen!” So if you choose the free version it’s just like splattered all over the place, it’s really hard to use, and if you buy the upgraded version, it’s really easy to draw a pretty milkshake. So, these are kind of now throughout the design interfaces, the actual gameplay of what kids are playing on apps. And not universally, there are certainly a lot of good child centered designers out there that are really letting kids explore more through apps. But, the majority of them had advertising in that study. So we did a follow-up study to look at how much data was being collected from the apps that kids are playing. I have a study where we looked at 124 kids, who all had android mobile devices, and we ran the apps that they played through this special process where we identified what private data from an android device would be send to a third party company, these third party companies are anything from Facebook Graph, which is that huge database that was implicated in the Cambridge Analtica scandal. There is also other ad databases that collect all of these identifiers from people’s phones it could be your email, it could be a serial number on the phone, a wifi address, and they look for patterns across the different places that you play so they could recognize patterns of say  a child who loves making in-app purchases. Or a child who is more of an impulsive game player. Um and these sort of patterns allow marketers then be more precise with delivering ads to a specific child, um, or user. And you could see that in this study, only a small, small percentage of kids who had zero transmissions to zero third party domains and most kids had a couple, at least, kind of leaking out into all of these databases, I don’t know exactly who they are, or you know, who is crunching their data and how they’re storing securely but it’s out there. And for some kids it was hundreds of datapoints. So, um, in addition to broadening our perspective on advertising to how kids are being influenced more subtly what sort of data profiles are could be created about them, we also need to think about how algorithms use that data to then serve them something to click on. So in this case, you know, the perfect example for us to see for algorithms is the YouTube recommendation feed, which looks at a child’s pattern of previous behavior or a user’s pattern of previous behavior, and then recommends the next video that they’re more likely to click on. Right, so this can persuade children to keep viewing the same sort of content, if it’s content that you like, as a parent then that’s great, but if it’s content that you don’t like then it really can start to extend the viewing time and get them really deep into a rabbithole, of say, you know trying on princess dresses or slime or whatever else they were watching. 

Okay, so that’s my kind of general intro about thinking a bit more broadly about how kids are interacting with marketing in the digital space and now I’m going to go into our results from the report released yesterday, where we looked at what kids are encountering on YouTube and I’m just going to focus mostly on what ads and what types of consumer pressure kids are experiencing on YouTube. So here’s what we did, um, the YouTube Common Sense Census that Vicki Rideout works on, is a survey every three years asking families how they use media. Now, we wanted to get, take some of those participants whose kids use the main YouTube website, not YouTube Kids, and 183 of them provided 10 or more videos from their child’s viewing history. So this amounted to over 1600 videos that we watched, so this was my lab with five research assistants watching over 472 hours of YouTube videos for the past like six months. And we coded them, meaning basically we rated them using Common Sense Media’s evaluation guidelines so this has things like positive and negative content, violence, sexy stuff, in this again, this presentation I will mostly be just talking about the consumer pressure. So we also looked at the kind of category of video that kids are watching, we decided to add a whole coding scheme about advertising just because it was so prevalent, in so many kids ads and so many kids videos. And then we also coded the negative and positive content that was showing up in these kids videos from kid’s viewing histories. Again, these were all kids 0 to 8 years old from the main survey. Um, and the data were collected in late March of 2020, so this was a time when many places were in lockdown,  just, you know, for your own interpretation of what the results were. So one of our main key findings is that advertising is very pervasive on YouTube, as we know it is an ad supported platform but an interesting thing is that overall it was about 85 percent of videos that had ads but it was significantly higher in early childhood videos. So these would be nursery rhyme compilations, this, like learning numbers and colors, and things like that, or like Peppa Pig compilations. And that was statistically significantly more ad-load, so while you’re watching one of those videos you’re going to get a banner ad, and a pop up ad, and a sidebar ad and you can see here that sometimes the educational content was actually blocked by an ad, and sometimes the ads weren’t even relevant to what a child would want to be searching for. In this example, um, there was some relevant ads, like the AdaptedMind, you know, which is kind of like an ABC mouse online learning program but at the same time there was a VRBO and like a payroll service prices, you know there is stuff where we are like why are these ads getting served right next to something that is clearly a humpty dumpty nursery rhyme video from Cocomelon. So we had some feedback from YouTube about just the way they are populating ads in videos that are clearly directed to children. We also saw that 1 in 5 videos viewed in this sample contained ads that were not age appropriate. So here’s an example of a Human Biospecimen Marketplace ad, which I don’t even know what that is, it does not seem appropriate for any YouTube video, but this was on a Frozen, Frozen 2 in real life music video, likely to be watched by kids as well as adults, but um you know getting served an ad that kids probably don’t really understand. So we also saw a couple examples, you know kids love watching FortNite videos. Even kids 8 and under and here is an example of like a dating website, 7 women to one man, that popped up during one of these FortNite videos. We saw ads all, you know, all with like political or ideological things like one about immigration. We saw an ad with violent content like the Valorant video game, where there was kind of a long video showing all the aspects of the game. And then we also saw even sometimes an ad here for this freegames.enz, with like an altered version of Peppa Pig, with her eyes x’d out and easily clickable by a child but probably not age appropriate. We are in Michigan, a swing state so we were seeing lots of political ads for both Trump and Biden. But I included this screenshot just to also show you that this is an example of the recommendations feed seen after one particular inappropriate youtuber. And you know the idea is if your child watches one thing that’s inappropriate they’re likely to get served more recommendations about similar things that you as a parent probably don’t want them encountering more of. And then, so I’ve only been talking about the ads so far, that are showing up in pretty predictable places, banners and pop up ads, and video breaks but then there is the consumer pressure that is actually embedded in the YouTube videos. So we coded that, and 45% of products, uh videos featured or promoted products for children to buy. So here is an example of a come play with me video, where they have kind of a scripted story where all these little dolls kind of go on outings or things like that, very very popular you can see that this one has 12 million views. The next example is a, that some content creators also promote their own merchandise or they ask children to use their affiliate codes, so if you kind of go into FortNite and make any purchases, you can put in an affiliate code and it gives this guy Jelly money if you use his code. So right, there are all these other pressures to kind of keep watching, keep having our stuff. And finally, this is a classic example of a toy unboxing video where this woman is describing unwrapping these LOL Surprise Egg dolls and these Trolls World Tour dolls. There is no statement here whether this is sponsored by the toy company but it’s kind of an example of that, we called it wish fulfillment but it’s also this kind of vicarious, satisfying, type of mindless content that’s really popular and gets a lot of engagement on YouTube. We asked parents how much they monitor their child’s usage on the YouTube site and 63% said very much, and almost all of them said at least somewhat. So the takeaway here is that parents know that YouTube makes especially, not YouTube kids, some pretty iffy content and that they really have their guard up when their kids are engaging in this site. So, here are my takeaways, I’m a clinician, a developmental behavioral pediatrician, so I care about how parents engage around technology with their kids. And one thing I say to parents all the time is that industry incentives, they favor engagement. Right, if we know an app is successful, or a video is successful if it gets more views, more clicks, longer engagement, people come back everyday. That’s how the industry measures success of a product. But that’s really hard when you are a parent who wants your child to go to sleep or transition away from the tablet, and it’s really hard to steer them away from these really what we call sticky, pleasurable, media experiences. Right so, just know that, it’s not your fault, you may want to reduce some of the more pleasurable, vicarious viewing that they are doing and do something that’s more like an art instruction video, or something that has more of a stopping point. You can just say, okay we’re done, moving on to the next thing. I’ve had parents in my clinic who just say we are done with YouTube, where they’re like this is causing too much conflict, and that is a fine decision to make too. But I think if your kids love YouTube you can also look at YouTube Kids, there’s more ad limits and filters on there, but there is still a lot of commercial content and influencers. Right, so you still need to be that teacher, that instructive co-viewer who kind of unpacks what kids are seeing and why they are demanding the products they’re demanding if it’s shown up in one of their videos. What we are recommending as part of this YouTube report by Common Sense Media, is maybe do not follow the feed but search for and find positive channels who have diverse characters, who have really positive messages, and then, you don’t, you know, see if you can just encourage yours kids to search, I mean to subscribe and watch those channels so you at least know that they are not being feed something you are unsure about. Help teach your kids to recognize ads. I sometimes with my kids will be like humm why do you think did we get that ad? What do they know about us? Who do they, they know we just watched this, they think we have this, you know and I think that it’s really important to help kids understand what platforms know about them because,um, they may not realize their behavior is being tracked in ways that they are then going to be fed something next that is very similar. This is kind of a funny example that I just drew this morning with my 7 year old because he was wondering like where things are stored in his device. I’m sorry this is a total mess, but we basically drew our house down here of what he does on his Chromebook and he drew these wires and how they go to Google and to Zoom and schoology, and these servers where his data is stored and where his messages are stored and the fact that we watch Saturday Night Live, and we watched a Biden video, we live in Ann Arbor, so this is stuff that I think kids need to know, that this sort of data is stored on them because it’s all the breadcrumbs and all the exhaust from our digital activities and that will make them smarter in terms of not only what they are actively sharing online, like, we always worry about sexting, and you know photos like that, no this is what you haven’t even known that you shared but that is kind of being inferred about you. Alright and I really encourage parents to go to the Common Sense Media Census website so you can see the report that Vicky worked on, you can see our YouTube report, you can look at our infographic on what we are recommending for parents. Thank you so much for listening and happy to take questions. 

Vicky Rideout: 

Thank you so much Jenny I think I’m going to save my questions for you for later and let the audience get in on it, I will just say though the census that we just released with Common Sense Media from my company is, it has been tracking kids media use since 2011. Looking at how much time, how often kids use media, how much they like different types of media, etcetera, and how often they use it with their parents. And one of the key findings this year was that for the first time since we’ve been doing this study, about a decade, the dominant form of media consumption among kids is online videos like YouTube. And so it has, the amount of time that kids who are under 8 years old spend with YouTube videos has more than doubled in the least three years so from 2017 to now. And the time they spent, if you look at the chart, the time they spent watching television went down, the time they spent watching online videos went way up and the time they spent with streaming services has just kind of stayed the same. So this is definitely the trajectory and why I think your study is so incredibly important. 

Jenny Radesky: 

Yeah, I am so glad we decided to do it because it was a year ago we decided to do this content analysis and then it turned out that, you know, the results that came out this year were that YouTube is so dominant in kids lives and so it was a really good opportunity to say okay well if this is making up a huge portion of their digital experiences, number one we need to know it’s a site that is appropriate for them, and then what sort of design changes YouTube needs to make to accommodate for all the kids that are clearly using it and then also how can we help parent be more savvy and feel more empowered to help their kids navigate it because it’s here and kids love it and there are reasons kids love it. 

Vicky Rideout: Right, right, okay, thank you, and now it is my pleasure to introduce our final panelist, uh, Josh Golin, Josh is the Executive Director of the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, CCFC, which is the leading independent watchdog of the children’s media and marketing industries and the only organization dedicated to helping parents, helping policy makers really, to end the marketing, end marketing to children. CCFC organizes campaigns against organizations that target children with harmful marketing. It helps, it does help parents and professionals reduce the amount of time that kids spend on ad supported screens and they advocate for policies that limit marketers access to children. Please join me in welcoming Josh Golin. 

Josh Golin: 

Thank you so much Vicky and it’s great to be here with you, and Matt, and Jenny whose work I admire so much and also to see so many familiar names in the audience and in the participants. So I am going to share my screen now, and i’ll, so one of the things we do at CCFC is we spend a lot of time marketing publications,um, because it is really interesting to think and see the way that marketers think about children and it’s pretty different than those of us who advocate for children or those of us who are pediatricians or educators or parents how we think about children. And in fact, I would, you know, invite people to take a step back for a second and think about the system that we’ve created where we are now using the most powerful persuasive technologies that have ever been developed, technologies, persuasive technologies that can get adults to believe fake news and we’re using those technologies in order to get kids to want and to buy stuff. Not to use those things for things that are for children’s benefit, um, it’s possible that those two things can intersect and things marketed to a child could be for their benefit but that’s not the purpose of advertising, the purpose of advertising is to sell stuff. And, you know, given the harms when we advertise to children it’s a really interesting thought experiment to look back and say why did we allow this to happen? A big part of the story is, and one that often gets left out, deregulation. We tend to think of the reason there is so much more advertising to children is because technology has evolved and because kids are spending so much more time on screens. And those things are definitely true, but it’s also a story of deregulation. In 1980, I won’t go into the full story but the Federal Trade Commission proposed a ban on marketing to children under the age of 8 and the industries that would have been affected, the broadcasters, the cereal marketers, the toy manufacturer, fought back, they won a huge campaign and the FCC actually lost some of its authority to, to regulate marketing to children as a result of the industry pressure. In the mid 80s, and during the Reagan Administration, children’s television was deregulated and a lot of the advertising protections that we had for kids TV were jettisoned. And so, those two things were a big part in the huge rise in marketing to children that we saw in the late 80s and throughout the 90s. Now of course, we, as Vicky, and Matt, and Jenny all mentioned, um, television commercials almost seem quaint, um, we’ve moved well beyond that with the internet. And the important thing, one of the important things to understand about the internet is we still do have some regulations on children’s television, about how you can and can’t advertise to a child, even though it is significantly less and less robust than it used to be,but on the internet we have absolutely no regulation about how you can advertise to a child. So one of the things that we have on children’s television is we have a prohibition on product placement or host selling, you can’t have somebody in a show sell directly to a child, but of course on YouTube and online that’s one of the most popular genres of videos that children are watching. Unboxing videos, you know, would not be allowed on children’s television, and yet these videos are being watched in droves by kids on YouTube. This is just one video, this is a very popular unboxer named Evan, this video has 11 and a half million views, actually a fairly unpopular video for Evan. If you look here, in the upper left hand corner, you can see “all products and considerations provided by Target.” A couple of things about that, you know, from a policy standpoint, the only thing the Federal Trade Commission has focused on is getting more disclosure. There is no evidence that disclosure actually helps children understand what is going on in a video like that, like this. The other thing is look at the way it is typed, the way it is phrased, all products and considerations provided by Target, that is going to be completely meaningless to a young child. They are not going to understand that this six minute video they are watching is an ad for a Star Wars toy and for Target. Another big change that we see on the internet is, and Jenny talked about this, so I will be brief here, is that the games that kids are playing are, are essentially, many of the apps, they only get to do a very little small portion of the game unless they nag their parents to get an in-game purchase. So on the game to the left you can see that you can only play with one of these adorable puppies , the rest of them are locked. On the right you’ll see a game where, you know, the main character in the game wants you to buy an in app purchase for him, and if you click away from the app store and don’t buy that purchase, the character is actually crying. So the ability for the game to respond and put pressure on to respond in real time this is a new development on the internet. So you know, if we think about this in terms of just being previews, they are not actually full games, but like a movie trailer doesn’t have the ability of the character to start crying if the kid’s family says that they’re not going to the movies. This is an escalation through the use of design. And then of course we get to the data collection which is really what the internet runs on, it’s data collection and advertising. When we think about those quaint television commercials and we think about a child whose watching a television show the advertisers that are trying to reach the child, know one thing about their audience, they know that their audience is watching Paw Patrol. They can infer things um from that on that, that it is probably a younger child, you know, that they might know some things about the interests, but they don’t know anything about the individual viewer at that moment except that they are watching Paw Patrol. If we think about what marketers know about a child who is watching a Youtube video, um, they know not just what they are watching in that moment, they know everything that child has ever watched, what videos they’ve liked, other websites that they go to, what their interests are, what other games that they play are, they know how much their parents make, they probably have inferred racial and ethnic characteristics that they’re inferring based on the activities that the child is doing. And so, there is just a whole bunch of information that goes into delivering what will be the most powerful ad at that particular moment to that child. Now I think as, as you know, this system doesn’t always work, as I think Jenny’s research really shows, but the intent is to take everything that is collected about a child and to use that um to deliver what would be the most powerful ad. And so when you think about what Matt was talking about, that children are already developmentally vulnerable to more traditional forms of advertising, and then, we’re taking, you know, adding the real power and balance that you have between an adult marketer corporation using really powerful technology, you’re now micro- targeting that to an individual child, that becomes really really concerning. When we talk about advertising to children, I think there are three kinds of things that are concerning. The first is the marketing of harmful products to children and Matt talked a lot about that, you know with alcohol, tobacco, junk food, I would add things like sexulalized dolls, violent media. So, you know, a lot of the concerns come from the harmful products that are marketed to kids. But I think there are other effects too that we need to think about. There is the parental conflict that Matt mentioned, there is also materialism. So regardless of what is being marketed to kids, what is being sold is this idea that it is attachment to brands, that it is things, that is material goods that are going to make us happy, that are going to make us successful, that are going to make us fit in. And, you know, there is a whole body of research that actually shows that the primary message of marketing is a lie. That once we have our basic needs met, the things that make us happy are things like community, friendships, the things that make us fulfilled are things like spiritual values. And so, um, we are teaching kids, you know, through this marketing system, you know not just the one individual ad but through the constant reinforcement of advertisement that they are seeing over and over again, that the path to happiness and success is through buying things. That’s a bad message for children. I think it is also a particularly bad message for society when we are at a moment of environmental crisis. You know, to teach kids that the path to happiness is by owning as much plastic junk as possible I think is really something that we should be interrogating more. And then the last way that advertising is harmful to children is that it really, really shapes the platforms that they are on. These platforms that kids are using, platforms like YouTube and social media were not built for them, they were built for the advertisers. You know, Jenny mentioned the use of autoplay and recommendations on YouTube, I think, you know, it’s again, if we just step back for a moment from this system that we have now and that we are so enmeshed in. I mean think about if we were building an online video platform for children. Would we have recommendations? Would we have autoplay? I don’t think we would. You know, children benefit from a clear beginning and end. What we would have, I think, if we were actually building it for children’s good, if we were building it to make families’ lives easier is when a video was over the screen would just go black. Maybe there would be a message that said, you know, “go outside” or “read a book” or something like that. But, we wouldn’t be trying to keep kids in this 24-hour, you know, constant, it never ends, there’s always another exciting video to watch. And, you know, I think many of the problems that parents have with media are directly related to this business model that prioritizes engagement over children’s well-being. Here is what a former YouTube engineer said about working at YouTube. He said, “Recommendations are designed to optimize watch time, and there is no reason that it shows content that is actually good for kids. It might sometimes, but if it does, that’s a coincidence.” And so, when you think about this problem that we’ve had at YouTube, you know, with the recommendation of inappropriate content to children. You know, a big one is these fake cartoons that have plagued YouTube where, you know, it starts off as a Peppa Pig or a regular cartoon and then something really scary is inserted into it, and disturbing. You know, and YouTube’s algorithm has been recommending these to kids? That’s a direct result of an algorithm that only looks at watch time as success, as engagement. So, and that’s, of course, that’s because they want to collect more data from children so they could deliver more advertisements to children. And so, I think it really helps to think about, you know, the way in which our medium system was built for advertisers and not children. Another quick example would be social media, right? One of the defining characteristics of social media is that we quantify popularity. I can instantly look at you and tell you if you’re popular, how many friends you have. If an 11-year-old girl posts a picture to Instagram she gets immediate feedback on how she looks in that picture. These techniques are used because they are incredibly effective at getting kids to give up their data and getting kids to stay on platforms as long as possible. But, I don’t know anyone, who if they were designing Social Media for a child’s benefit or for a teenager’s benefit, would want to recreate the high school cafeteria so we can immediately spot who the popular kids are and who aren’t. And, if you think about things like, you know, the inappropriate content, contact of adults to children on the internet. Think about how that is encouraged by systems that tell kids that the way to be successful at social media is to have as many friends as possible, so that, you know, it normalizes and encourages taking friend requests from strangers. So, what can we do about all this? The first thing I’ll say is, you know, there is one law around data collection and behavioral advertising on the internet. It is the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act. That law says that you cannot collect data from a child under 13, personal information, without getting parental permission first. As Jenny’s research shows, there is huge, huge, widespread violations of this law. It is commonplace. Studies have shown that more than half of the apps in the Google Play Store aimed at young children violate CAPA. You don’t get to that kind of widespread noncompliance without a crisis of enforcement. So, one of the things that we need to do is we need to put pressure on the FTC to enforce the one law that we have, CAPA, better. In 2018, my organization and the Center for Digital Democracy filed a complaint against YouTube for violating CAPA. YouTube said that they did not, that the law did not apply to them, because their terms of service said that YouTube was for 13 and up. We thought that it was a little ridiculous that everybody in the world knew that young children were using YouTube all the time, except apparently the people that worked at YouTube. So we filed this complaint that documented the extent to which YouTube was aware of children, the extent to which they were profiting off of them and bundling shows for advertisers. And last year, the FTC actually ruled in favor and settled with YouTube as a result of that complaint that we filed. They fined YouTube, not nearly enough, but the important thing about that settlement was that they now on children directed content on YouTube, now it’s important it just applies to content that self-declares to be child directed, there is much more limited data collection and you cannot advertise, you cannot do behavioral personalized advertising to a child. And so now, when a child is on YouTube watching these child directed videos, the advertising that they are getting is much more like television advertising in that the only thing the advertiser knows about them is what they are watching in that moment, not this whole history and all of this other data that they collect. We also need better regulation. Right now, Senator Markey and Hawley have proposed an update to CAPA, which we support and which would be really important. It strengthens CAPA, and adds privacy protection for teens, which is really important. When you think about advertising and data collection, we treat a 13 year old in this country the exact same way we treat a 35 year old, which is pretty strange because we don’t do that in any other context. It bans behavioral advertising to children under 13, which we think would be a huge step forward. And it increases platform and operator accountability by changing the standard by which they are held to account from an actual knowledge to a constructive knowledge standard. And what that means is, what we see all the time now because of CAPA, we see this on TikTok, we see this on Instagram, we’ve seen it on Snapchat, we saw it on YouTube, is we see the company say, we don’t know that there are children on our site, therefore we are not responsible. It encourages them to bury their heads in the sand, because the minute they acknowledge that children are on their sites, then all of a sudden their CAPA-liability kicks in. So, the Markey/Hawley bill would get rid of that excuse and force these platforms to take proactive steps to acknowledge that these children are there and then offer them protection. Senator Markey and Senator Blumenthal also have the Kids Act, which is exciting. You know, it takes some of the children’s television rules and applies them to the internet, so the things like the unboxing videos would not be allowed. You are not allowed to do the whole-selling. It bans some of those features for children that are designed just to maximize engagement, in order to make them more valuable to advertisers. And it also gets rid of displays that quantify personal popularity. You know, I talked about how that was one of the main ways that advertising is, that these platforms use to keep kids on in order to deliver ads and also puts kids at risk. So, we are really excited about that bill as well. I also want to encourage us again to think bigger. And so, these bills, I think, important protections, but I think we need to start thinking about solutions that go beyond that. The UK, earlier this year, passed what’s called the Age Appropriate Design Code. The code is a set of 15 flexible standards that provide built in protection to allow children to explore, learn, and play online, by ensuring that the best interests of the child are the primary consideration when designing services that children are likely to learn, or use, excuse me. And I think that that’s a really important rethink of what we are thinking, how to think about the internet. That the obligation, if you are going to attract children to your site, that that needs to be your first and foremost obligation, not to advertisers. And once you do that, it allows you to really think about how can we use design to help children, to help them learn, to help them connect with their friends, but not in ways that maximize engagement and to engage in ways that will be harmful to them. One of the things that I love about the Age Appropriate Design Code is that it says that you cannot use a child’s data in ways that’s harmful to them, and they include in that to keep them longer on the screen than would be necessary. I think, if we’re going to be talking about reforming the business model, and that’s really what we need to do if we are going to reduce the influence of advertising on children, we need to think about other business models, it may seem ridiculous to think about in this day and age when funding is being cut for all sorts of essential things, but we need, you know, if we are going to say that in the 21st century being online is a fundamental part of childhood, that this is going to be one of the primary environments with which children interact with each other and which they learn and play. Then, we need to fund it through ways that aren’t harmful to children. So subscription models are certainly better than models that rely on advertising, but they exclude people. They exclude families who can’t afford subscriptions, so we need to also have public funding for commercial free media. And so, again, I think, you know, it’s really important to think about the small, not the small, but the technical technical fixes that we can make through policy, but it is also important to pull back the lens and say, “How did we get to this moment? And is this really where we want to be when it comes to media and marketing in children or can we think more, can we think in more grandiose terms and really start thinking about the media system that we want to create for children. Thanks.


Vicky Rideout: Thank you so much Josh, okay now we are going to turn to questions from the audience for the panelists that people have submitted and feel free folks who are attending to submit more Q&A if you have them now. One of the questions that came in was: Can parents protect themselves against covert tracking via the apps that their kids play. And, I think Jenny, you maybe were going to kick this one off. 

Jenny Radesky: Yeah, I mean the answer to this is pretty simple. There are, you know, some app creators like PBS kids or Sesame, that have committed to not collecting any identifiers from kids devices. So, if you stick with the kind of publicly funded, you know, known quality content, that’s a safe place to start. Second, is that app stores do not run tests on the apps that they approve to see what sort of data they collect. So, it’s not something you can be an informed consumer about. You can’t like look on the app page and be like “What? Who are you going to send my data to?” There is a, one of my collaborators from our study started a, this is only for android devices, but it is a website called and you can look up any app and they’ve run just now, thousands and thousands of apps and you can see what sort of data are collected and where they send them to. So, for example, I was looking up some of the meditation apps like Calm and Headspace and they collect identifiers and send them to databases like Facebook. So, it is so frustrating, because this is really a stressful time in people’s lives. You probably don’t want databases knowing that you’re feeling anxious or you need help coping, and yet that sort of that data is sort of regularly shared without us really knowing about it. To answer the question though, I think, if you want to go the extra mile of searching up apps that way. But, I think anything that has ads, in-app purchases, often has those kind of extra marketing things built into it. 

Vicky Rideout: Yeah, yeah, interesting. And in the survey that we just did for Common Sense Media, actually one of the parents we asked for examples of things that types of media their kids are using and how it affects them and one of the parents mentioned that their child uses a meditation app, which I was thinking, that’s really cool, and its tracking the kid.

Jenny Radesky: And a lot of them are helpful but it is, you know, a I don’t know, I can’t say whether when you login to one of those apps whether they ask you age, you know that would be the appropriate thing to do if they want to be CAPA compliant.

Vicky Rideout: Okay, here’s another question that had come in. I am a media literacy educator and I use commercials like toy ads with educators to get them to appreciate techniques of persuasion as well as deceptive production techniques. What else should teachers be teaching about ads aimed at kids? Anybody want to talk about that?

Jenny: Well, I think, just like what I was drawing at with my son, is not only how are they trying to persuade you but what do they already know about you? And that sort of, you know, “What does YouTube know about me? What does Google know about me? You know, what does Apple know about me?” They know your location. You know, I think this should be just regular sort of language and conversation that we are using among families about our privacy instead of just focusing on screen time. You know, because I think that’s how you develop, I mean, that’s how you raise some savvy kids who hopefully won’t be falling for misinformation or will be a little bit more, you know, maybe we’ll be designers who make this sort of better designed digital space for kids that Josh was talking about.

Josh Golin: I would just add to that, you know, I think that it is really important to teach kids about the bigger system as well and obviously that is going to work better with older children than with younger children. But for instance, you know, we almost teach kids, by omission, that Google is a library. Like, you know, that you go and do a search and like that’s where you get all of your information. And we don’t teach kids that actually when you’re doing those searches Google is collecting all sorts of information and the order of the ranking has to do with a whole bunch of things both about you and what’s valuable to Google’s advertisers. And so, it’s not, it’s very very different, it couldn’t be more different actually I think, than going to the library, looking up something from Google. And yet, we are teaching kids everyday in school to go look things up on Google. So I think we really also, not just how to an individual ad works, but also how the whole system works. And again, you know, you’re not going to teach your 4 year old how Google works, but as kids get older I think that’s really important.

Vicky Rideout: Yeah, Matt did you want to say something?

Matt Lapierre: Well I also want to talk, speak to that idea of the teaching of the deceptive tactics, it’s still problematic. Right, it’s that, one of the things we looked at in my research, and I’ve done it with some folks in the Netherlands is to sort of argue that, you know, even if children have advertising literacy doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to practice it or they have the capability to practice it. And that, I think it’s also important to understand the sophistication in the tactics used. Right, is that, you know, you can teach a child and they might be able to rehearse that with you, but it is not necessarily going to happen in practice, because, I think, the, you know, you give a kid a really attractive character, or especially now in online settings where we have influencers that they love. Like, even if you tell them, like there’s still a high likelihood that their affection for that character or their cognitive limitations are going to be overridden. So, you know, I think that’s why, I think, in all of our presentations I think we’ve spoken more towards like institutional issues that need to be addressed. Because, you know, I think, I just think, that it’s a hard haul.

Jenny Radesky: Can I just tell a quick story that like perfectly illustrates that? So, during the summer when we were doing this YouTube coding, I had my eleven year old watch with me sometimes to be like, can you find the ads? What is that ad for? Is that appropriate for you? And, you know, at the time of course he was being like, yeah, I would resist that, I wouldn’t click on that, dadada. He was like, all of these nursery rhymes are so stupid and I don’t like these videogames. But then, this year, with virtual learning, he got a chromebook from school, which does not block YouTube, and we found out that he has been watching Pokemon unboxing videos, which is his, like that’s the thing that Matt said he can’t resist. Like, that is his perfectly predicted thing that will get him to watch more and more. He watched it during standardized tests two weeks ago. He was watching it during all of his classes. And then he told me that it recommended serial killer videos for him the next time he opened up YouTube. And so, instead of clutching my pearls at this, we used it as a learning opportunity to talk about like why do you think they served you that? How did that make you feel? You know, how did it to feel, trying to do your Michigan State Test while you were thinking about the more pleasurable unboxing video. And, you know, to try and make everything a teachable moment is what I would recommend for families while we are still waiting for the actual, you know, a simple, a simple institutional change would be like, be able to block YouTube on a Chromebook that a child is trying to learn on. 

Vicky Rideout: You know, I have a question from one of our audience members that is exactly on that. And, I am going to ask the Children and Screens people if they could pop this person up so they can ask their question to you guys directly. I think it’s Craig who should be on our screen now. And, he was saying, and we went back and forth on this a little bit, that his kids got a chromebook and with, were using google classroom and he wanted to ask about the links between that and Youtube, so, I’m going to see if the Children and Screens folks can pop Craig up now.

Craig Olson: Yeah, Craig Olson here in Seattle. So this is something you covered, in some of your presentation and I know it’s obvious, but I wasn’t aware of the insidious nature of the connection between Google and YouTube, in the Google Classroom platform. I assume that there were precautions in place or blockers in place, but there are so many new sites that have popped up that are not blocked by the school districts, that, with my 3 kids, they can nearly get anything on their devices, eventually. And as was covered, based on content viewing and based on clicking on videos and feeding more videos. My 12 year son ended up watching, like teen porn, just by clicking on two videos. So, it happened, you know, in minutes, and, that was on an iPad that my 8 year old son was using for something, and my 14 year old daughter has found sites that she watches during class that are basically screaming high price high end video for some reason for free to eventually get her to sign up. And she signed up for numerous sites that we have had to block. So, and the school district’s not equipped to handle this many requests for blockage. They are just so overwhelmed and we’ve tried all kinds of things, but basically, you know, it’s a by design, in my opinion, by design situation that Google has basically created and they’re training kids to essentially become, I guess, unwilling participants in their commerce, but I would just be curious about your thoughts about that.

Vicky Rideout: You know, it’s really interesting, because you were saying that in fact, Google Classroom, like they use YouTube and they send them to YouTube videos and stuff like that, and you had asked, does Google get compensated by advertisers for this? And, you know, the interesting thing is, Google owns YouTube. So, it is beyond them even getting compensated by advertisers, but all of the money is going to them. And, you know, that is where the profit is. So, yeah, I think it’s a really, do any of the panelists want to comment on that briefly before we go to another question?

Josh Golin: Well,  I think it is interesting. You know, Google has not put YouTube, Google has not put YouTube into its core Google Classroom, you know, suite of apps. And so, there’s a lot of questions about what’s happening with the data that’s collected by Google from their educational platform, which they have not been particularly forthcoming about, and so, it becomes really concerning to send kids to YouTube where all of this data collection is going on. So, there are some data protections on like the other Google, if you’re using Google Docs for education, there are some protections that Google gives you but those don’t, because they don’t include YouTube, I think very deliberately, because they want to monetize through schools, so I think Craig really hit the nail on the head and one of the things that I think we need to pressure Google to do is to have an educational only version of YouTube that is included in their suite of Google tools because, right now, you just lose all of those protections once, and teachers, you know, are assigning YouTube all the time particularly these last 8 months, so I think that’s one thing that we need to do. 

Jenny Radesky: And just one other thing I will add, we, our school district contracts with Securly, which is a, it manages school devices that are sent home and we had to opt into an account where we could monitor our children’s browser history and then we could block sites. So we could block Pokemon card trading site. Like, you know, we could go in and just find, but again it is like whack-a-mole, so they will find other sites that are really engaging and exciting to them, but at least it’s one form of institutional level control to try to resist, you know, the distractions.

Vicky Rideout: Look how nice this is, we have Dale Kunkel with us, who has done a lot of research on kids and advertising and a lot of advocacy. So Dale, unmute yourself and ask your question. 

Dale Kunkel: Hi everybody, it’s great to see you, and the field is in good hands with all of you guys doing work in this area. One thing I think that would be worth drawing a little more attention to would be age related developmental differences, in how children understand and defend against commercial persuasion in any medium. And so, I wanted that just to ask the panelists if they might comment on that. Are there different recommendations for example, how about you might use media literacy for a five year old versus a twelve year old. Or, are there differences based on developmental research. In terms of policy recommendations, I’ll give you a chance to answer that, I have a comment perhaps on some policy recommendations, although you guys have already offered some terrific suggestions. So that’s my question.

Vicky Rideout: Matt, do you want to take the first crack at that?

Matt Lapierre: Yes, it is a real pleasure to be asked a question by Dale. So, when it comes to, like I think one of the things like a lot of what we know has been based on television, right, and those overt ads. So, in answering the developmental question for what it would be like on YouTube, for me, and maybe Jenny and Josh might have, like I feel like I have completely, um, like sort of like looking on an unending horizon, right. Where like understanding like, I mean, we can, like, in some of the stuff we know about like kids and advertising on television that kids 4, 5 years of age don’t, can’t separate ads from regular content, and like it’s the idea that you would have so much intermingling of like commercial and editorial content and videos, like now we see on YouTube, like 4 or 5 year old it seems almost incomprehensible, right. Like, so a lot of when we talk about like developmental competencies when it comes to understanding parts of advertising, I just don’t think that in this new environment we have a lot of good answers. And I’m trying to think off hand of, you know, I think maybe Ester Rozendaal in the Netherlands has looked at some of these things and what we do find is that those competencies that we assume children have in television are actually so much, develop so much later when we get to online settings. 

Jenny Radesky: And I would just add that, you know, now it may be a norm for kids, that they expect there to be this side of sort of commercial persuasion or in-app purchases, kind of baked into the products that they are using. My team at University of Michigan we’ve been looking at children’s developmental differences in children’s conceptualizations of digital privacy. So, from age 5-10, there is some maturation and kids start to understand a little bit closer to 9 and 10, like oh they sent me that video because I liked this sort of video. Or they must think, they must know that I am a boy because I like videos of explosions. But they, that’s kind of it. When we asked these children, all of them thought that data about them and what an app or YouTube remembers about them is all stored locally. They do not think that there is this larger, cloud-based, or servers, or that there’s, you know, they still have this one-to-one personal idea of privacy, where they think, we say like, how does Youtube kind of remember what kids are watching? And they say, well they can’t because then they would need thousands of cameras all looking at thousands of kids and they don’t understand the larger scale of data collection or machine learning or things like that. So, I would say that, you know, still from 5-10, there are a lot of limitations. I think there is a lot of opportunity to teach kids more, you know, through the digital interfaces that they are using, because they are picking up on cues all the time, it just may be not all of, you know, the whole picture. 

Vicky Rideout: I want to jump in with a quick question from a panelist, and Dale I know you want to make a comment too so we will get back to that. But one panelist, it is kind of related to that they asked, I mean an attendee asked, up to what age is YouTube Kids content going to engage and provide quality content for kids? Because we do find so many kids are watching YouTube, not Youtube kids, so and, you know, since YouTube kids has these additional protections, but if the kids stop watching it at age five, because it’s no longer engaging to them, that it doesn’t do much good, does anybody? 

Josh Golin: Yeah, YouTube kids skews really young. When they launched it, it was really a preschool app, they’ve since added some content for that I think would be more appropriate for 8,9, and 10 year olds, but the fact of the matter is is, in part because of the decision they made to focus so much on younger children when they launched it, it’s really seen as a babyish app. And so, you know, it is an issue where, you know, 10 year olds don’t want to be caught dead on YouTube kids. And so, that’s really one of the issues, and so that’s one of the reasons why we have been working so hard to pressure Google to put in ad policies for the YouTube main site because we just don’t think it’s realistic that once you get beyond a preschool audience that they are going to stay on the YouTube Kids app.

Vicky Rideout: Okay, and one more really quick question from an audience member before we go to Dale, and we only have like 3 minutes left for the whole thing. But, NY state has ED Law 2D, designed to protect student data privacy. Are you familiar with any specific issues or concerns with this law and its ability to protect student data privacy? So is anybody on the panel familiar with this New York State ED Law 2D? No, okay that was quick. Dale, what’s your comment or policy suggestion?

Dale Kunkel: So, there’s current law on the books that any advertising that can’t be clearly identified as such, is unfair and therefore prohibited, that’s not for kids, that’s for everybody. So, what I would love to see the research community do at this point is to just do some simple studies. I mean, we did this research 50 years ago with TV, but with new digital media, at what age, what percentage of kids at what age really understand that they are being advertised to with influencer videos, or whatever. You could categorize these different types of digital content, and then all you have to do is say, we don’t even need a new law, I mean people talk about adopting a Children’s Advertising Bill of Rights, because it is absolutely scandalous that there is no regulation when we saw the migration from television to digital media. But you don’t even need a new law, all you need to do is provide some evidence that shows that kids don’t identify it accurately, and though therefore even though adults do, your target audience doesn’t and so it should be actionable, it should be illegal under current law. 

Josh Golin: Could I just say, I echo that I would love to see that research and to say, you know Dale knows better than anyone that the FTC has been historically very reticent to enforce the idea of an unfairness, but I think we are going to see a big push from the advocacy community. We’re actually meeting with the FTC’s transition team tomorrow and one of our top asks is that they start taking unfairness seriously, because they, you know, they, the FTC likes to go after if you are selling scam diet pills, but the idea that there are techniques that are fundamentally unfair to a developing child is something that they’ve shied away from. So, the more research that we could have to bring to bear to the FTC while we are putting the political pressure on them would be enormously helpful.

Vicky Rideout: Okay, very briefly Matt and then I’ve got to throw it back to Pam.

Matt Lapierre: I was just going to like, even with the assumption that it is kids, I think might be, like, maybe is too much of an assumption. So, we recently did a study with adults from the United States asking them about their literacy, their ad literacy in online spaces and its shockingly low, and I think, we’ve isolated this on kids, but I would be concerned about adult ad literacy and its fairness. So, yeah, I don’t, it’s sort of.

Vicky Rideout: I hear you. And just on a personal note, my grandson is well-aware actually at age 7 that he is watching ads and that’s just his preference. Like, he’ll go on YouTube to watch the ads and the unboxing because that is his favorite. So, there you have it. Okay, with this, I am going to thank you all so much, and turn it back over to Pam.

PAMELA HURST-DELLA PIETRA: Thank you Vicky, Matt, Jenny, Josh, and Dale, for sharing your experience and expertise. Thanks also to you, all of you in the audience, who joined us to participate in this really interesting and important conversation. We hope today’s discussion has been enlightening and has equipped you with new insights for healthy digital media use in your families. To continue learning about this topic, please be sure to visit our website where we have additional tips on this topic and we will post more information in the coming days. We will also post a video of today’s webinar on our YouTube channel, which we encourage you to subscribe to and share with your fellow parents, teachers, clinicians, researchers, and friends. For more information on Children and Screens, please follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn at the accounts shown on your screen. Our conversation addressing children’s wellbeing in digital media will continue throughout the rest of the year. On Wednesday, December 2nd at noon we will discuss the science of creativity, with renowned experts from the field. We’re excited to share that this will be an extended 2 hour webinar, that features live virtual demonstrations from creative children and adults, much of which you can do at home with your family. Then, on Wednesday, December 16th at noon, a new spectacular panel will address screens and children’s ocular health. Our experts will discuss the latest science on digital eye strain, myopia, computer vision syndrome, and provide practical tips for keeping your kids’ eyes as healthy as possible during screen time and COVID-19. Stay tuned for more information on both of these upcoming events. When you leave the workshop, you will see a link to a short survey. Please click on the link and let us know what you thought of the webinar. Thanks again and everyone stay safe and well.