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CU Boulder study finds 'unboxing' videos can negatively affect kids' behavior

Kids who watch toy review videos more demanding
Posted: 7:59 AM, Dec 09, 2019
Updated: 2019-12-09 21:46:09-05

If you have younger children, there’s a good chance they’ve watched some type of unboxing video online. These addictive videos show kids opening and playing with various new toys.

A new study from researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder reveals that spending more time watching these videos may lead children to become more demanding, and throwing tantrums when they don’t get the toy they see in these online videos.

“We have found an association between children’s consumption of unboxing videos and its relationship to their purchase demands,” said Harsha Gangadharbatla, an associate professor of advertising, public relations and media design at CU Boulder.

Gangadharbatla, along with his wife and research partner Deepti Khedekar, surveyed parents of children 4-10 years old through the crowdsourcing service Amazon Mechanical Turk.

Seventy-eight percent of parents reported their kids regularly watch unboxing videos. Sixty percent said their children watch more than an hour per week. And nearly 17% said their kids watch between three and nine hours per week.

Gangadharbatla said they compared those with higher levels of unboxing viewing to those with lower levels.

“We found there are differences between these two groups,” Gangadharbatla said. “The ones that consumed higher levels, a higher amount of time watching unboxing videos, were more likely to ask for those toys and more likely to throw tantrums and show emotional distress if the parents say no to that."

As if dealing with a demanding child wasn't enough, Gangadharbatla said parents who chose to buy the toys in the video may find they're harder to find and more expensive. That's what happened to Gangadharbatla when his 6-year-old daughter asked for a specific doll she had seen in an unboxing video.

"It wasn’t available at Target or anywhere else online except a specific site that you had to go to," he said, noting that the seller was charging $60 for the doll.

Gangadharbatla said children don't understand that most unboxing videos are essentially commercials, especially when the child or adult in the video is being paid to talk about the item.

He said it's important for parents to talk to their kids about the motive behind these videos. While the FTC has guidelines for social media influencers, they're hard to enforce across the internet.

"The onus is on the parents to be very media literate and understand the complex media environment we live in so they can talk to their children about their media habits," Gangadharbatla said.