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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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I honestly can't remember how I used to organize and share baby photos before I started using FamilyAlbum. (What am I saying? I could never keep all those pictures organized!) Like most mamas, I often found myself with a smartphone full of photos and videos I didn't know what to do with. My husband and I live states away from our respective families, and we worried about the safety of posting our children's photos on other platforms.

Then we found FamilyAlbum.

FamilyAlbum is the only family-first photo sharing app that safely files photos and videos by date taken in easy-to-navigate digital albums. From documenting a pregnancy to capturing the magical moments of childhood, the app makes sharing memories with your family simple and safe. And it provides free, unlimited storage—meaning you can snap and snap and snap to your heart's delight without ever being forced to choose which close-up of your newborn's tiny little nose you want to keep.

Try FamilyAlbum for Free

And, truly, the app is a much-needed solution for mamas with out-of-state family. Parents can share all their favorite memories with friends and relatives safely within the app without worrying about spamming acquaintances with every adorable baby yawn the way you might on a social network or a long text thread. (Did I mention I have a thing for baby yawn videos? I regret nothing 😍) It's safe because your album is only visible to the people you share it with. The app will even notify album members when new photos have been posted so they can comment on their favorite moments and we can preserve their reactions forever. It's also easy for my husband and I to share our photos and videos. All of our memories are organized in one place, and we never have to miss out on seeing each other's best shots.

And because #mombrain is real, I especially appreciate how much work FamilyAlbum takes off my plate. From automatically organizing photos and videos by month and labeling them by age (so I can skip doing the math in my head to figure out if my daughter was five or six months when she started sitting up) to remembering what I upload and preventing me from uploading the same photo four times, the app makes it easy to keep all my memories tidy—even when life feels anything but.

FamilyAlbum will quickly become your family's solution for sharing moments, like when you're sending a video to the grandma across the country. Grandparents need only tap open the app to get a peek into what is going on with our girls every day. When my sister sends her nieces a present, the app has become where I can share photos and video of the girls opening their gifts so she never feels like she's missing a thing. The app will even automatically create paper photo books of your favorite shots that you can purchase every month so you can hold on to the memories forever (or to share with the great-grandma who has trouble with her smartphone 😉). Plus, you can update the books with favorite photos or create your own from scratch. No matter what, the app keeps your photos and videos safe, even if your phone is lost or damaged.

But what I love most about FamilyAlbum is that it's family-first. Unlike other photo sharing platforms, it was designed with mamas (and their relatives!) in mind, creating a safe, simple space to share our favorite moments with our favorite people. And that not only helps us keep in touch—it helps us all feel a little bit closer.

Download FamilyAlbum Now


This year marks FamilyAlbum's 4th anniversary! Click here to celebrate and learn more about their "Share your #FamilyAlbumTime" special promotion running until March 31, 2019.

Today's moms spend more time with their kids than ever before, but we're also working a ton in paid and unpaid roles. According to a recent study out of the UK, mothers who work full-time and are raising two or more kids are 40% more stressed than working women with no children.

So many moms feel like if they could just add more hours to the day so they do could more they would be less stressed, but the key to decreasing our stress and maximizing our potential might actually be doing less, not more.

Tiffany Dufu is a mother of two, the founder and CEO of The Cru; a peer coaching service for professional women, and the author of Drop the Ball: Achieving More By Doing Less. On the latest episode of The Motherly Podcast, sponsored by Prudential, Dufu tells Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety that the key to achieving more, in motherhood and our careers, is making strategic choices about what you can drop.

For Dufu, who witnessed her own mother fall into poverty, financial stability was an important part of what she felt would make her a good mom. "Some women have children and they want to be at home. They want to stay at home. I had children and I wanted to put my foot on the gas pedal in terms of my career. I wanted to make money," she explains.

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And before her kids arrived, she had an idea of what that would look like. In her mind's eye she saw herself keeping a clean house, sitting down to dinner with her family each night and still breaking boundaries in her career. But her first day back at work after her maternity leave was shockingly different than how she'd pictured working motherhood.

She found herself sitting on the floor of the bathroom, expressing breast milk into the toilet because she "couldn't handle both the pump and the bottle."

"It was like literally a mess and I was crying on my way home in my designer suit with like gross milk on my nice silk blouse," she explains. "It was a huge turning point because it was the first time that reality hit."

In the 12 years since that episode, Dufu has been redefining working motherhood in a way that works for her, rewriting the cultural programming girls grow up absorbing. "From the moment that you were wrapped in a pink blanket you've been receiving messages about who you are and what you should be. And that's a very kind of daunting realization for someone who feels like I did, that you're in the driver's seat of your own life."

Dufu's used that driver's seat to clear a road for other women. She's run a national women's leadership organization that's trained thousands of women to run for office, and helped so many women develop careers they are passionate about. But in order to do this, Dufu had to decide which metaphorical balls she was going to drop.

"I don't manage my kid's social calendar and that usually means that my kids miss a lot of birthday parties because we don't live in an evolved world in which people send birthday party invitations to children's fathers," she explains. "So when it comes in my inbox and I have to ask myself my 'dropped the ball' question, [I ask] is responding to this birthday party invite my highest and best use in raising a conscious global citizen?'"

If the answer is no, they skip the birthday party.

For Dufu, motherhood isn't about doing it all, it's about choosing what to do by being real about how much time is in the day and being strategic about how she invests that time. "It means that we hedge our bets and we decide I'm not going to puree this baby food today because I'm working on a better future for this child," says Dufu.

Sometimes being the mom and person you want to be means you won't be following a script pre-approved by society, but you will be free to write your own story.

To hear more about Tiffany Dufu's experiences in motherhood and her career listen to The Motherly Podcast, sponsored by Prudential, for the full interview.

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For some celebrities, pregnancy is a time to retreat from the public eye and be more strategic about what they share online. They guard their personal lives a little closer, and their social media presence gets a little more curated.

But when Amy Schumer announced her pregnancy in October, she didn't stop sharing. We saw—and heard, in some of her more graphic Insta stories—just how hard this pregnancy and the resulting hyperemesis (an extreme form of morning sickness) have been on Schumer.

Schumer's humor has always been real, and her new Netflix special, Growing, is one of the realest descriptions of pregnancy I've ever seen on my TV.

As a mom who didn't glow as much as I groaned through my pregnancy, I laughed so hard I cried. And as a mom of a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, I cried tears of relief.

In one hour Amy Schumer simultaneously made me feel seen and helped me see a happy future for my son, and I can't thank her enough.

[Warning, light spoilers ahead]

Amy Schumer: Growing | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix www.youtube.com


The Netflix description for this special describes it as "both raunchy and sincere" and that's totally accurate. If you've seen Schumer's previous Netflix special, you know you can't watch this until the kids are in bed.

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In Growing Schumer proves that pregnancy didn't make her a different person or take the curse words out of her vocabulary. She is who she is, she just happens to be becoming a mom, too.

And becoming a mom has not been easy. Schumer's description of yeast infections, and vomiting and hemorrhoids and all the parts of pregnancy that nobody puts on a felt letter board gave me flashbacks and validation.

In Growing, Schumer is saying that it's okay not to love being pregnant and that it doesn't mean you don't love that baby growing inside you. It's a message more women need to hear because it's hard to see photo after photo of smiling mamas sporting cute bumps and wonder if you're the only woman who doesn't love feeling someone sit on your bladder.

That feeling (the emotional one, not the bladder one) made me feel alone in my pregnancy, but it's been three years since I wondered if there was something wrong with me. These days, I'm more worried about whether my son, who is now a preschooler, will grow up to think there's something wrong with him.

As the mother of a kid on the spectrum, I gasped when Schumer explained that her husband, Chris Fischer, is too. I sobbed when she described some of her husband's quirks, because I see them everyday in my son.

I don't want to spoil the special too much, but let me tell you this: In revealing that her husband, the father of her future child, is on the spectrum, Schumer gave me so much hope.

I'm so grateful that Schumer (and Fischer, who must be on board with this) shared that bit of info because sitting there in front of my TV all the versions of my son's future that got erased when we got our ASD diagnosis came flooding back.

I could see him as a grown man, and he wasn't alone. He was falling in love with a partner like Schumer. He was becoming a father like Fischer. He was happy (and different, in the way Schumer describes her husband) but he wasn't alone.

Schumer's trademark raunch isn't for everybody, but her authenticity and vulnerability sure is for me. For 60 minutes I watched a woman stand alone on a stage and I felt less alone.

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It's been four years since the Zika virus outbreak had health officials warning pregnant women to stay out of certain regions where the mosquito-borne virus was flourishing, but now health officials around the world are downgrading those warnings.

Stateside, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has eased warnings that previously advised women who were pregnant or trying to conceive to avoid traveling to dozens of countries and regions.

Now, the CDC guidelines simply recommend "pregnant women and couples planning a pregnancy within the next 3 months consult with a health care provider" before traveling to areas where Zika has previously been reported.

Only one region in the world has an active Zika outbreak. The Indian state of Rajasthan has that unfortunate distinction and the CDC recommendations still urge against visiting that area if you're pregnant or trying. The rest of the world though? That's your call.

The CDC's downgrade follows a similar move in February by Public Health England, and precedes an expected announcement from the World Health Organization, the Washington Post reports.

Zika activity around the globe has calmed considerably in recent years. Brazil, which saw hundreds of thousands of cases of Zika infection in 2016, had more than 2,000 babies who were impacted by "developmental and growth alternations possibly related to Zika virus infection," including microcephaly, "a condition where a baby's head is much smaller than expected," according to the CDC.

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There is no vaccine for Zika, and while pregnant women can take precautions, like wearing long sleeves and insect repellent to protect from mosquitos and avoiding outdoor activities at dawn and dusk, the easing of the travel advisories does not mean there is zero risk, just that it has been greatly diminished since 2015/2016.

"Where there are those big outbreaks, we're definitely going to tell you not to go," Martin Cetron, the director of the CDC's Division of Global Migration and Quarantine said in an interview with the Washington Post. "Where there is a range of possibilities, from no Zika to low-level background Zika, we're going to tell you there's been virus there before; it could still be there. If you're a zero-risk person, don't go. If you're not, you decide."

Some high profile mothers had already been making that call even before the CDC lightened up the guidelines. Last fall the newly pregnant Duchess of Sussex, the former Meghan Markle, traveled to areas previously impacted by Zika, Fiji and Tonga.

There is no word yet on exactly when the WHO will ease its guidelines, and even when it does, pregnant women should still talk to their doctor before traveling internationally.

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It may seem like there are more recalls than ever these days, but that's actually a good thing for parents. It means fewer potentially dangerous products are making it to our dinner tables and medicine cabinets.

According to food safety experts, the spike in recall notices for everything from broccoli to baby toys in recent years suggests companies are doing a better job of self-reporting, and we're actually safer than we were in the days when recalls were rare.

"It reflects a food industry that takes contamination and foodborne illnesses seriously. Increasingly companies are willing to recall their products rather than expose customers to potential harm," Dr. William Hallman, professor and chair of Rutgers Department of Human Ecology, said in an interview with Food Drive."So more companies are taking a cautionary approach."

Here are the recalls parents need to know about this month:

Dollar General baby cough syrup

The FDA announced a recall of 2-fluid ounce (59 mL) bottles of DG/health NATURALS baby Cough Syrup + Mucus sold at Dollar General stores.

The manufacturer is recalling lot KL180157 because the medicine is possibly contaminated with Bacillus cereus, which can lead to two forms of gastrointestinal illness and cause vomiting or diarrhea.

"Most often, illnesses are mild and self-limiting, although more serious and even lethal cases have occurred. Individuals at risk for more severe forms of illness include infants, young children, and others with weakened immune systems," the FDA notes.

So far, no babies have become ill after taking this product, but if you have it in your home you should return it to the store or call 1-844-724-7347.

Dollar General Baby Gripe Water

The above cough syrup recall follows another recall of a Dollar General product. Last month the FDA issued a recall notice for "DC Baby Gripe Water herbal supplement with organic ginger and fennel extracts" after the company received one report of a one-week old baby who had difficulty swallowing the product, and there were three other complaints "attributed to the undissolved citrus flavonoid."

The FDA says "the product should not be considered hazardous but could result in difficulty when swallowing the product for sensitive individuals."

Basically, it's not harmful if swallowed but the undissolved flavonoid makes it a choking hazard.

The gripe water was sold at Dollar General stores in four ounce bottles with the UPC code 8 5495400246 3.

69,000+ pounds of Tyson chicken strips are being recalled: What parents need to know 

Another chicken product is being recalled. On March 20, 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced a recall classified as high risk. Some 69,000 pounds of Tyson frozen, ready-to-eat chicken strip may be contaminated with pieces of metal.

Earlier this year Tyson recalled 36,420 pounds of nuggets for a similar reason.

All the recalled products have a use-by date of November 30, 2019. The recall includes the following varieties:

  • Tyson FULLY COOKED BUFFALO STYLE CHICKEN STRIPS CHICKEN BREAST STRIP FRITTERS WITH RIB MEAT AND BUFFALO STYLE SAUCE" case codes 3348CNQ0317 and 3348CNQ0318
  • Tyson FULLY COOKED CRISPY CHICKEN STRIPS CHICKEN BREAST STRIP FRITTERS WITH RIB MEAT" case codes 3348CNQ0419, 3348CNQ0420, 3348CNQ0421, and 3348CNQ0422
  • SPARE TIME FULLY COOKED, BUFFALO STYLE CHICKEN STRIPS CHICKEN BREAST STRIP FRITTERS WITH RIB MEAT AND BUFFALO STYLE SAUCE" with case code 3348CNQ03.

"The problem was discovered when FSIS received two consumer complaints of extraneous material in the chicken strip products," the agency notes. "There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products. Anyone concerned about an injury or illness should contact a healthcare provider."

If you have these chicken strips, throw them away or call Tyson at 1-866-886-8456.

[A version of this post was originally published February 21, 2019. It has been updated.]

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