In Defense of YouTube

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Much has been said in the media over the last few years about screen time, and in particular the content available to children on YouTube. Leaving aside the arguments about whether or not screen time is good for kids, I’d like to talk specifically about YouTube.

My son is four years old (and one month, as he will tell anyone) and he adores counting. He likes to count the number of steps on our stairs at home, the number of papers in a pile on the printer, and every other object we encounter in our daily lives. “There are five red apples,” he announces randomly at the grocery store. Strangers love this. They coo over him and applaud my parenting and how well I must have taught him for his counting, colors, and letters to be so advanced for his age.

The truth is: I have taught him nothing. Never once have I sat down and instructed him on how to count or how to recognize the color red. He learned all of these things, from A to Z, by watching YouTube.

I’ll be the first to admit that there’s a lot of odd and questionable videos on YouTube, especially what’s marketed to kids. There is also content that encourages materialism and consumption. But for every Spider-man and Elsa video, there is a Fortnite Dancing compilation that surprises and delights.

As with much of life, YouTube is what we make it. For many of our students, it is an educational tool, helping them to delve deep into their interests and connect with others who are passionate on the same subject. Other times it is a source of humor, or entertainment, or simply curiosity.

Just last week when I was attempting to print a particularly finicky piece of marketing material for Alpine Valley School, where did I turn for instruction? YouTube. A friendly stranger from Grand Rapids walked me through the instructions step by step and I was able to tackle the problem that had been plaguing me for hours. The only real question I was left with was why I didn’t turn to YouTube sooner!

Students at Alpine Valley School have no limits placed upon their viewing time. They are free to pursue their interests, however they manifest, and wherever they lead. Of course, there are limits on the content that anyone can consume at school (it must meet societal norms) but there will be no adult standing over their shoulder and telling them that they really ought to be doing something educational. YouTube has as much educational potential as any other media. It is the way our children will be learning in the future and we embrace it at Alpine Valley School.

Marc Gallivan