The media usages of children between 3 and 5 years of age are a reflection of how their parents use them. Parents influence and accompany their children by deciding the content they watch or interact with, the supports they use for this purpose and the time they spend consuming media.
According to a study conducted by the CBeebies channel, 64% of parents will choose an app that serves an educational purpose and 65% will give as much importance to apps that foster play and creativity. In fact, parents strive to reach a balance between fun (cited by 82% of respondents) and educational (cited by 77% of respondents).
The current media usages of preschool children are deeply influenced by their young Millennial parents, who grew up surrounded by digital and are accustomed to delinearized, easily accessible and sometimes free content offers. Naturally, they will seek out similar offers for their children.
According to a Canadian study dating back to 2014, children aged 3 to 5 spend an average of two hours per day in front of screens. Despite the lack of a more recent and detailed study on the media usages of the youngest children in Canada, a vast study conducted in 2017 by Common Sense Media in the United States with 0–8 year-olds allows us to extrapolate how this time is spent:
The increase in the time spent per day by 3–5 year-olds in front of a screen is contrary to the recommendations of the Canadian Paediatric Society, which calls for limiting screen time to 1 hour per day between the ages of 2 and 5. Prior to 2 years of age, Canadian specialists recommend not exposing children to screens to avoid hindering their development.
This gap between recommendations and usages illustrates that screens have become an easy and practical reflex for parents seeking to occupy their young children.
Would it not be wiser to cut through the controversy concerning screen time and instead focus on what is presented on the screen? That is in line with the most recent recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which claims that the content itself is more important that the platform used to consume it or the time devoted to media.
While it recognizes the risks associated with abusive consumption, the Academy reports that digital content in general and games in particular that are designed and optimized to foster the development of young children may be relevant learning tools that encourage personal experimentation or the development of new skills. Apps such as Skype and FaceTime are also favoured seeing as they open the door to social interactions.
These recommendations encourage parents to be attentive and proactive when choosing content for their children. Recent articles have stressed the risks of the automated navigation paths proposed by YouTube’s recommendation algorithm. This algorithm has been perversely used by less scrupulous producers to create absurd, violent or inappropriate content incorporating popular keywords. This should prompt parents to be more vigilant even though most of the criticized videos are not available through the dedicated YouTube Kids platform (unavailable in French in Canada).
Contrary to these practices, many editors and producers focus on creating content that is adapted to their young audiences. Such is the case of pioneer Sesame Street, the England’s Azoomee platform and the Quebec series Toopy and Binoo which all present an offer designed to entertain the youngest audiences.
Toopy and Binoo, inspired by a series of books by Dominique Jolin, is a youth series appreciated by parents and adored by children. Its first animated adaptation dates back to 2006. In the space of 11 years, the brand has successfully renewed itself and expanded while retaining what made its initial success. Three seasons have already been produced and are still aired to this day, a feature film is currently in production, and a new website is online since last fall.
Echo Media recognizes the place that parents occupy in the brand’s strategy: “It’s important to reach out to parents through Toopy and Binoo’s DNA,” explains Sarah Châtelain, Echo Media’s senior brand manager. In the eyes of parents, the series entertains their children and portrays values that are important to them.
Indeed, Toopy and Binoo fosters non-didactic learning. The friendship between the exuberant mouse and the quiet cat is a story that emphasizes the importance of empathy and collaboration. Each episode appeals to imagination and creative thought. “It begins in a realistic universe but then slides into a world where everything is possible,” adds Ms. Châtelain.
The show’s humour and refreshing tone have also contributed to its success: “The series does not moralize or tell children what to think or do,” specifies Ms. Châtelain.
To adapt the series to the usages of a new generation of children and parents, producer Echo Media bet on digital early on.
In parallel to the televised broadcasts on Treehouse TV, Télé-Québec and Radio-Canada, YouTube presents full episodes, compilations and karaoke clips. And its success is undeniable seeing as the channels have racked up more than 200 million views since their launch in 2013.
The brand has also focused on interactive games: the Toopy and Binoo app has already been downloaded more than 165,000 times. The website is a reflection of the entire ecosystem and provides centralized access to the activities, videos and games available to children. Ms. Châtelain adds: “Parents can leave their children in the site’s safe space or go on YouTube if they prefer. We give them the choice.”
The producer is aware of its young audience’s specific traits. The preschool audience renews itself every two years, which is at once a privilege and a challenge.
A privilege because the same content can appeal to several successive generations. “However, once the oldest members of a generation have left, we need to seek out younger ones to replace them. That can be done through marketing operations as well as by managing novelty to propose a variety of content,” concludes Ms. Châtelain.