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It’s science: Why your kids are obsessed with those unboxing videos on Youtube

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It’s a parenting conundrum for a digital age: Your child has real, physical toys they could play with, but they would rather watch a YouTuber, like super famous 6-year-old Ryan, or the disembodied hands of the adult known as “Disney Collector” (who has made millions doing it) unpack new toys. The kids don’t necessarily even want the products featured in the video, they just want to watch the video.


So what is it about these clips that make them so mesmerizing for kids? Because technology is moving faster than research does, we don’t know exactly what goes on in a child’s brain when they watch these videos, but we do know they’re kind of addictive.

They activate motivation and desire

According to experts, the videos are relatable and tap into the excitement a child would feel if they really were unwrapping a present themselves, but watching someone else unwrap a present also activates areas of the brain involved with motivation and mirroring, through something psychologists call “mimetic desire.”

"It's the idea that desires don't just depend on the properties of the object, but also on whether the object is seen as attractive to others," child psychologist and neuroscientist Charlotte Keating told Australia's ABC News.

That, combined with a very young child’s natural tendency to get intensely obsessed about one thing (in this case, so-called “surprise egg” videos), and an algorithm designed to serve up more and more of the same has created a phenomenon that isn’t great for parents who are struggling to set limits on screen time.

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They give kids control and trigger reward responses

Part of what makes online video (and handheld screen media in general) so appealing to kids is how easy it is for them to control it. Even a very young child can select an appealing unboxing video from a YouTube menu. Plus, they like the interactivity.

In an interview with Scientific American, pediatrician Dimitri Christakis of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute explained how clicking on a smartphone or tablet triggers reward pathways in the brain. “The delight a child gets from touching a screen and making something happen is both edifying and potentially addictive,” he explains.

When the manicured hands of Disney Collector unwrap the next toy, a kid’s brain thinks, “Yay! I made her do that.

Little kids crave them but can’t understand them

“Some people call it 'toddler crack',” says Professor Stuart Cunningham, co-author of the recently published research paper Toy unboxing: Living in an unregulated) material world.

Cunningham cautions against “moral panic” over unboxing videos, noting that making such videos can be empowering for child YouTubers and their families, but critics argue the videos are hardly empowering for the kids (some just toddlers) on the receiving end.

"Children [are] deceived into thinking this is content, a kid playing with a toy, when it's a kid selling them a toy,” Aaron Mackey, a Georgetown Law professor told AdWeek.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy are among those who worry unboxing videos are basically long-form commercials with lower production values, and not at all the kind of “high quality programming” (think Sesame Street) the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends.

They raised the issue to the FTC, along with complaints about other weird YouTube content aimed at kids.

Unboxing videos can be an opportunity to teach media literacy skills to older kids (“Why do you think this YouTuber is making this video? Do you think the toy company maybe paid them to?”) but many of the videos are being consumed by toddlers who can barely grasp the tablet they’re looking at, let alone the concepts of sponsored content.

Kids may bond with unboxers

A playlist of surprise egg videos may be an effective way to keep a toddler quiet during a wait or car ride, but the AAP recommends no screen time beyond Facetime or Skype calls for kids under 18 months, and very limited screen media after that.

As some parents on social media have noted, an early obsession with unboxing videos might change the way kids interact with real people in video chats.

“My two year old was Skyping with my mom and she kept saying ‘egg’ over and over. It took me a minute to realize she thought my mom was going to open surprise eggs like on YouTube,” wrote one Reddit user. “It’s sad that she thinks ‘Disney Collector’ is a family member,” says another.

According to Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, a nonprofit based in Newport Beach, California, kids may start to feel like they know their favorite YouTube unboxer.

In an interview with Nova Next Rutledge explained why a child might feel like they have a relationship with an unboxing personality. “We see the action. So it isn’t as separate from face-to-face communication as our brains process it, as we might rationally or consciously think,” says Rutledge, who notes that it’s similar to how adults may feel about a celebrity like Oprah. “You start to develop a one-sided relationship with that person where you feel like you really know that person.”

Alternatives to encourage real play

A lot of kids get unhealthily obsessed with unboxing and unboxing stars, but some parents do report positive associations with the videos and credit the genre with the speech and language gains their children have experienced.

Experts caution time with a screen can take away from important developmental activities, though. Research has shown that preschool-aged children need to interact with actual physical objects in order to develop their parietal cortex, so real play is a better brain builder than unwrapping videos.

For older kids, making or pretending to make their own unwrapping videos is a creative alternative to passively consuming them (even if the performance is not actually posted to YouTube).

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There are certain moments of parenthood that stay with us forever. The ones that feel a little extra special than the rest. The ones that we always remember, even as time moves forward.

The first day of school will always be one of the most powerful of these experiences.

I love thinking back to my own excitement going through it as a child—the smell of the changing seasons, how excited I was about the new trendy outfit I picked out. And now, I get the joy of watching my children go through the same right of passage.

Keep the memory of this time close with these 10 pictures that you must take on the first day of school so you can remember it forever, mama:

1. Getting on the school bus.

Is there anything more iconic than a school bus when it comes to the first day of school? If your little one is taking the bus, snap a photo of them posed in front of the school bus, walking onto it for the first time, or waving at you through the window as they head off to new adventure.

2. Their feet (and new shoes!)

Getting a new pair of shoes is the quintessential task to prepare for a new school year. These are the shoes that will support them as they learn, play and thrive. Capture the sentimental power of this milestone by taking photos of their shoes. You can get a closeup of your child's feet, or even show them standing next to their previous years of first-day-of-school shoes to show just how much they've grown. If you have multiple children, don't forget to get group shoe photos as well!

3. Posing with their backpack.

Backpacks are a matter of pride for kids so be sure to commemorate the one your child has chosen for the year. Want to get creative? Snap a picture of the backpack leaning against the front door, and then on your child's back as they head out the door.

4. Standing next to a tree or your front door.

Find a place where you can consistently take a photo year after year—a tree, your front door, the school signage—and showcase how much your child is growing by documenting the change each September.

5. Holding a 'first day of school' sign.

Add words to your photo by having your child pose with or next to a sign. Whether it's a creative DIY masterpiece or a simple printout you find online that details their favorites from that year, the beautiful sentiment will be remembered for a lifetime.

6. With their graduating class shirt.

When your child starts school, get a custom-designed shirt with the year your child will graduate high school, or design one yourself with fabric paint (in an 18-year-old size). Have them wear the shirt each year so you can watch them grow into it—and themselves!

Pro tip: Choose a simple color scheme and design that would be easy to recreate if necessary—if your child ends up skipping or repeating a year of school and their graduation date shifts, you can have a new shirt made that can be easily swapped for the original.

7. Post with sidewalk chalk.

Sidewalk chalk never goes out of style and has such a nostalgic quality to it. Let your child draw or write something that represents the start of school, like the date or their teacher, and then have them pose next to (or on top of) their work.

8. In their classroom.

From first letters learned to complicated math concepts mastered, your child's classroom is where the real magic of school happens. Take a few pictures of the space where they'll be spending their time. They will love remembering what everything looked like on the first day, from the decorations on the wall to your child's cubby, locker or desk.

9. With their teacher.

If classrooms are where the magic happens, teachers are the magicians. We wish we remembered every single teach we had, but the truth is that over time, memories fade. Be sure to snap a photo of your child posing with their teacher on the first day of school.

10. With you!

We spend so much time thinking about our children's experience on the first day of school, we forget about the people who have done so much to get them there—us! This is a really big day for you too, mama, so get in that photo! You and your child will treasure it forever.

This article is sponsored by Rack Room Shoes. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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In America, mothers have the right to breastfeed their child in public, but what about when you're on an airplane? That's the issue one California mom, Shelby Angel, brought to light after she had a bad experience on Dutch airline KLM.

In a Facebook post that has gone viral Shelby explained:

"Before we even took off, I was approached by a flight attendant carrying a blanket. She told me (and I quote) "if you want to continue doing the breastfeeding, you need to cover yourself." I told her no, my daughter doesn't like to be covered up. That would upset her almost as much as not breastfeeding her at all. She then warned me that if anyone complained, it would be my issue to deal with (no one complained. On any of the flights I took with my daughter. Actually, no one has ever complained to me about breastfeeding in public. Except this flight attendant)."

Shelby's post gained traction but soon the conversation spread to Twitter, where another woman, Heather Yemm, asked KLM to explain its breastfeeding policy.

The airline responded, "To ensure that all our passengers of all backgrounds feel comfortable on board, we may request a mother to cover herself while breastfeeding, should other passengers be offended by this." Twitter users didn't like this response and even started asking other airlines about their breastfeeding policies.




British Airways confirmed it welcomes breastfeeding onboard and a Delta rep tweeted that the airline's policy is to "allow a breastfeeding mother to feed her child on board in a manner she feels comfortable with."

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That sounds like a good plan to us. Southwest was also questioned by Twitter users and confirmed that "Southwest does indeed welcome nursing mothers who wish to breastfeed on the aircraft and/or within our facilities".

This important online conversation underscores how vital it is for airlines to have supportive policies in place and train staff on those policies. Back in March, a Canadian mom made international headlines after an Air Canada call center representative told her to nurse in an airplane bathroom (a suggestion that is contrary to Air Canada's own policies).

It's time for every airline to recognize that breastfeeding needs to be welcomed and that all staff members need to understand this. Whether a mother uses a cover or not needs to be up to her, not a flight attendant or other passengers.

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There are a lot of points during labor when mothers do not have any control over what's going on with their body. The one thing they usually have, if giving birth vaginally, is their ability to push. But a recent report by Vice highlights the fact that in some hospital delivery rooms, women are being told to stop pushing, even when the urge is nearly irresistible. And in some cases, this may be happening for some very troubling reasons.

"If a woman's cervix is fully dilated and she has the urge, she should be allowed to push, barring some unusual complication with mother or baby," Dana Gossett, chief of gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center, told Vice.

Writer Kimberly Lawson gathered anecdotal evidence suggesting that in many situations, hospital nurses are telling women to stop pushing because the doctor or midwife isn't available to deliver the baby. In some cases, women even report nurses forcing a baby's crowning head back into the birth canal.

"I've never felt a more painful experience in my life [than] being strapped down and forced to hold a baby in," says Elaina Loveland, a mother who was told to stop pushing because there were no beds available at the hospital when she arrived. "It was almost worse than the pushing. It was horrible."

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In addition to pain, women made to resist the urge to push may experience other complications. Delayed pushing sometimes causes labor to last longer, puts women at higher risk of postpartum bleeding and infection, and puts babies at a higher risk of developing sepsis, according to a study released last year. One midwife explained in the article that holding the baby in can damage a mother's pelvic floor, which might later cause urinary incontinence.

In one extreme case, Caroline Malatesta, a mother of four in Alabama said that when a nurse forced her baby's head back in, she caused permanent damage. After four years of chronic pain from a condition called pudendal neuralgia, she won a $16 million lawsuit against the hospital.

Nurses aren't necessarily being cruel when they instruct mothers to stop pushing, by the way. They may be hoping to prevent other complications, such as problems with the umbilical cord or shoulder dystocia. A doctor or midwife is better trained to correct such situations, and can also help prevent perineal tearing.

If hospital staff are instead making these decisions because of a shortage of obstetricians or hospital beds for expectant mothers, there's a systemic problem that needs to be addressed. As people have grown increasingly aware of the high rate of maternal deaths after childbirth, issues like these could point out where there's room for improvement.

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If you feel like you're paying too much of your household's income for childcare, you are not alone. The average cost per family in the U.S. has gone up far faster than median household incomes over the last six years. No wonder many families are feeling the crunch.

According to a new survey from Care.com, families paid 26% more for nannies to care for one child in 2018 than they did in 2013, going from an average of $472 per week to $596. The difference in childcare centers isn't quite as drastic, from $186 to $213, about a 14% increase. After-school babysitting went up from $181 to $244 per week, a stunning 35% rise. All of this is a faster rate than the median household income, which rose about 11% from 2013-2017.

When you drill down, the numbers spell out why this is hurting families. The 2019 Cost of Care Survey from Care.com showed that over 70% of families devote more than 10% of their income to childcare costs, and more than 40% spend more than 15% of their income. That's more than twice as much as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' definition of affordable childcare, which is 7%.

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Of course, most families find a way to make it work, because what choice to they have? Survey respondents told Care.com that they do this by cutting down on spending and saving less for the future. They also wind up working fewer hours and having fewer children. These sacrifices by parents can also wind up costing the economy in terms of growth.

There were some other interesting findings of the survey. If you're looking for a place to relocate your family, New Jersey turns out to be the most affordable place to hire a nanny, while North Dakota has the most affordable childcare centers. New Mexico has the least affordable nannies, and Washington, D.C., has the least affordable childcare centers. Maybe if more of the nation's lawmakers had to put their kids in daycare near the capitol, they'd step up their actions to change things.

Most of the candidates in the 2020 presidential election have laid out plans for either universal childcare, larger tax credits, or subsidized care. President Trump has proposed a one-time $1 billion investment in childcare, structured so that states would have to apply to receive some of the funding. At this point, so many parents out there will take any help they can get.

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If there's anything Jessica Alba isn't afraid of it's taking on a new challenge. When she started The Honest Company, an all-natural baby and beauty brand, seven-and-a-half years ago she had no idea her hard work and dedication would morphe into a billion-dollar business.

Now the entrepreneur is taking on her newest ongoing challenge of mothering three children with ease. "Everyone says you're outnumbered [when you have more than two kids] and that it's challenging, but I really like it," says the 38-year-old. "I think because I have such an age gap between my two girls [her oldest daughter Honor is 11, and middle daughter Haven is eight], it brought us together as a family in a different way. We really got to bond over the birth of my third child."

According to Alba when her son Hayes, who's now one-and-a-half, was born her daughters treated him like a real-life baby doll, while she and her husband of 10 years, Cash Warren, reveled in having a kid they actually planned. Alba finds peace in having a set routine in her life these days.

In fact, a large part in the key to maintaining her sanity as a busy mama is sticking with a schedule. "My husband and I were very regimented from day one on sleep and feeding times," she says about the first months as a mother to three kids. "We also stuck to the routine of not having the children sleep with us when they were really young. It gave my husband and I time to be alone."

But being a celebrity and businesswoman doesn't exclude her from parenting challenges—particularly at bedtime. She admits that she was surprised at how difficult putting three kids to bed can be when they prefer to cuddle for two hours instead of laying down. But even if her schedule is thrown off a bit, the routine she establishes is ultimately better for the entire family.

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Family aside, personally, Alba overcame issues of feeling insecure and the idea of constantly having to be a perfect mother. "I was really insecure when I was 27 years old with my first child," she says. "It took me a year after every kid to feel normal again and get comfortable with the fact that my body is different and it's okay. I'm a lot more confident now."

When she's not busy managing Honest (which is set to launch a line of eczema products at Honest.com on July 23), Alba enjoys traveling and getting out of her comfort zone. "It's nice to see how other people live because it helps you figure out how you want to live," says Alba regarding her most recent family trip to Montenegro. "While there, it was so cool to see the kids out of their comfort zone. We spent a week in a place that none of us had any expectations on what it was, and we didn't do anything all day. We just literally hung out with each other. It was so nice."

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