Resisting hyperreality?: talking to young children about YouTube and YouTube Kids

Investigating how young children watch, understand and engage with digital content on YouTube and YouTube kids.


This study explored how children aged 3-5 watched and engaged with digital content on YouTube and YouTube Kids using the theoretical framework of Baudrillard’s (1984) concept of ‘hyperreality’. Given the increasing amounts of time children spend viewing these platforms, and related concerns around the commercial algorithms which direct their viewing choices, the research aims were to understand how young children make choices about what to watch and to explore the extent of their comprehension of the constructed, ‘unreal’ nature that characterises a large proportion of these videos, particularly those presented by children (micro-celebrities).


Research Questions

  • How do young children choose what to watch on YT/YTK and what do they enjoy about the content they select?
  • To what extent do young children recognise and/or resist the constructed hyperreality of the content they watch, especially that produced by micro-celebrities?
  • How useful are Baudrillard’s theoretical approaches as interpretative tools in understanding young children’s relationship with on-line content?


13 young children in English speaking countries (England, Scotland, Australia, USA) were recruited by an international team of researchers. Two data collection methods were used with the child participants which were specially designed to capture the nuances of YT/YTK viewing from their perspective.

The first was a child led YT/YTK tour involving the parent-researcher sitting with their child while they watched YT/YTK videos and asking them to share the videos that they liked. The child was prompted to talk about the videos, why they liked them and how they chose the next one. These conversations lasted twenty minutes and were digitally recorded and transcribed.

The second data collection method involved all the children being shown the same 15 minute video of the toy review video Ryan’s World featuring the ‘micro-celebrity’ Ryan Koji (Abindin 2020). The children were asked the reflective questions about the video and their responses were recorded or written down by the parent-researchers.

Both these methods were designed to allow the children to share their pleasures and fascinations with the digital content they watch on YT/YTK and also to examine the extent to which they are able to discern ‘reality’ (the physical world) from what Baudrillard (1994) terms as ‘hyperreality’ (an image or simulation of the physical world).

The contributory elements of hyperreality that Baudrillard (1981) identifies, namely: diversion, distortion, capture and ironic fascination, provided a useful scaffold for analysing the conversations we had with our young research participants about their use and enjoyment of YTK and their responses to Ryan’s video.


The study found that the children selected videos for a variety of reasons including those related to their ‘real-life’ interests, and were largely able to discern between the real and hyperreal in videos by drawing on existing frames of reference and applying their developing knowledge and understanding of the world. The paper provides insights into young children's experiences, understandings and preferences around using YT/YTK and extends Baudrillard's perspectives on the hyperreal from postmodernism into a post-digital conceptual realm.


BCU Pilot project fund


O’Connor,J. (2021) ‘Child-produced content and the simulation of childhood’. In Our Children’s Future: Does Public Service Media Matter? London: Children’s Media Foundation pp.74-80.

View the report.