What could be better than tearing off the wrapping paper for a surprise gift? Or opening up a long-awaited mail order? Judging by views alone on YouTube and TikTok, watching someone else do just the same thing. Unboxing videos are a big deal on nearly all video platforms: the hashtag #unboxing has racked up not just millions, but billions of views on TikTok, and YouTubers dedicated to the trend have risen to become some of the most popular on the platform.
The trend has been around for a long time on the internet, but one of its most curious aspects is the phenomenal popularity the videos enjoy among young watchers. Let’s take a look at why kids love unboxing videos, and how videos of people opening products took over YouTube feeds all over the world.
What is unboxing?
Whether on YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok, an unboxing video shows people taking products, such as toys or gadgets, out of their original packaging and demonstrating how they work. From the latest iPhone model to fidget spinners, there’s an unboxing video of virtually every consumer product under the sun – and the collective views are staggering, especially (and perhaps surprisingly) with content uploaded for kids.
Why do kids like unboxing videos?
Unboxing videos of toys and presents are generally filmed and edited with kids in mind. These videos are fun and full of surprise and anticipation, usually revealing toys that the child watching wants to play with themselves, followed by the YouTuber playing and interacting with the new toy.
Unboxing videos are almost like longer, more interactive commercials for kids. Children are surrounded by the all-too-familiar “buy buy buy” mentality, driving adults to spend their hard-earned cash, and lust after the latest gadget release or the year’s hottest trend. Children, however, don’t generally have that kind of cash to hand – so unboxing videos may play a part in scratching the spending itch.
Why do unboxing videos have so many views?
With kids’ channels making up 4 out of the top 10 most-viewed across YouTube, children are certainly spending a lot of time on the platform. In fact, YouTube is kids’ most popular online video service, with children spending hours watching one video after another. In 2022, the average child spent 67 minutes on the YouTube app every day, while on YouTube Kids, watch time was even higher, at 79 minutes per day.
It’s plain to see that kids are spending significant amounts of time watching YouTube – but why on unboxing videos?
Think back to commercials when you were a kid. How many times did you run straight to mom, dad, or both, and beg for what you’d just seen on the screen? In a world where kids are watching TV less and less, toy unboxing videos have stepped in to fill this role. They often feature characters that kids are familiar with, or trending items that children really want to get their hands on, but aren’t able to in real life. Another part of the appeal is that these videos allow children to be in on the fun, opening a mysterious or desirable toy and playing with it “together”.
Are unboxing videos safe for children to watch?
On the surface, unboxing videos seem pretty harmless. After all, what could be bad about watching other kids or people having fun with toys?
The problem with unboxing videos does not generally lie within the content itself, though that isn’t a hard and fast rule. As with most things online, you can generally find inappropriate content the more you dig – even with videos aimed at kids, and even on special “child-friendly” platforms like YouTube Kids.
However, one of the reasons that unboxing videos are more of a problem for children than they might seem is largely because of their addictive nature.
Watching unboxing videos can give children a dopamine hit, while also tapping into something called “mimetic desire”. Parents of younger children will likely already be familiar with this phenomenon: what everybody else’s kid is playing with is light years more attractive than your kid’s current plaything. Mimetic desire is about the toy or thing that someone else has, and whether it’s seen as attractive to others, too. The more others want something, the more likely we are to desire it.
How to make YouTube viewing more intentional for your child
Part of the problem with YouTube is that it can be bottomless, sucking children and adults alike into a black hole of content. There’s a lot of educational, interesting, and entertaining videos on YouTube, but to contrast, there’s also some mindless, often silly, and even inappropriate content out there that kids can easily stumble upon.
All of us can benefit from choosing what we want to watch, rather than simply being served up fresh content by an algorithm or through related keywords. Some ways that parents can help make YouTube viewing more intentional include:
1. Watching YouTube together. This will allow you to become more involved in your child’s interests, and talk about what’s going on in the video.
2. Actively searching out content and channels you’d like to recommend to your child. From nature documentaries to craft tutorials, there’s a whole world of informative, entertaining content out there on YouTube for your kid to get into.
3. Switching off Autoplay, so related videos can’t automatically start playing after one has finished.
4. Turning on Restricted Mode to automatically filter out inappropriate content on YouTube.
5. Setting daily time limits on YouTube.
6. For very young kids, you may want to monitor their watched YouTube videos. With Qustodio’s reporting tools, you can see both the searches your child has made on YouTube, along with the videos they’ve watched. This will give you an idea of the kind of content your child is engaging with, and allow you to talk to them if you see anything you’re concerned about.
In summary, unboxing videos aren’t exactly dangerous, but they’re strangely addictive for children. They can also be a way for companies to market to kids in a more subtle, friendly way. Because of this, it’s probably best to keep an eye on how much unboxing content your child is watching, and guide them to more appropriate videos if you feel that they are spending too much time absorbed in the trend.