When he was about three years old, my now six-year-old son, discovered YouTube. Like many toddlers and preschoolers, my child would stare in awe as other children un-boxed and played with toys — many of which we had in our very own home, sitting un-played with on a shelf near by.
Maybe it was the comfort of hearing another child’s voice in the home, or the thrill of watching a kid get a new toy, but for whatever reason, my kid just ate this stuff up.
Above all, one YouTube kid kept making his way onto our screen.
Ryan, the now eight-year-old star of the behemoth YouTube channel, Ryan ToysReview, began making videos with his parents in 2015, and has grown into what may be the biggest child star of my kids’ generation.
What Macaulay Culkin was to the 90s, Ryan is to this decade.
My older son has mostly moved on to watching gamers, but my four-year-old has found his own joy in watching Ryan’s channel.
And, I know that grinds a lot of gears.
Parents, including myself, often disgruntling watched our children stare fascinated at Ryan, all the while calculating in our heads all the money he and his family earn from every single video.
I thought of how this poor child was being exploited, for some sort of bastardization of entertainment. This wasn’t acting, this wasn’t a skill.
Any parent with a cellphone camera could do this.
But, one moment changed my view on Ryan and his YouTube fame.
While out with my four-year-old, we encountered two brothers playing with several figurines. They varied from pirates to pilots and all had an “R” on their fronts.
Having seen most children’s shows, I searched my brain, trying to place the character. Baffled, I asked their mom, and she informed me these toys were based on Ryan from Ryan ToysReview.
I held back a laugh, and did all I could to keep my eyes from rolling.
I couldn’t believe this kid now had his own merchandise.
I wanted to go home and write a snarky essay on how the world has gone to hell.
But, then I took a moment to consider what someone like Ryan means to those boys.
Ryan, who happens to be an Asian American, offers other Asian American kids (like those boys I mentioned), the opportunity to see themselves represented in pop culture.
I can’t speak to whether these kids really care that Ryan is Asian American. There’s a good chance they would have liked him just as much if he were Black, Hispanic, or otherwise. But, speaking as a mom of Jewish children, I understand how cool it is to see someone who is like you in media.
While mainstream media has made some strides in recent years, and more diverse shows are being developed every year. children’s programming remains dominated by characters — both real and cartoon — who present as white.
With YouTube, however, there are no suits to tell you your child “won’t play to certain audiences,” or “we already have someone to fill the role of (insert name of token racial/ethnic character here). All you need is access to a video recording device and the Internet.
In this way, YouTube is the fairest, most democratic social platform, and one of the best opportunities to showcase more diverse voices, whether they be kids reviewing toys or otherwise.
Of course, YouTube isn’t perfect, and as this article points out, often fails to promote YouTubers of color and brand partnerships tend to favor Caucasian influencers. In researching this article, I had trouble coming across a solid list of diverse YouTubers whose content is appropriate for kids.
However, YouTubers like Ryan prove people of all backgrounds can find success on the platform, and give more kids an opportunity to see themselves on screen.
Regardless of your children’s racial makeup, all kids can benefit from seeing diversity on YouTube.