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The Dark Side of Ryan’s World: Parents & Experts Speak Out

Ryan Kaji, an 8-year-old YouTuber, has become the center of attention for his channel Ryan’s World, which features unboxing toy reviews, science instructions, skits, and family vlogs. With more than 24 million subscribers, Ryan’s World has become a lucrative kidfluencer empire that earned $22 million in 2018 and $24 million in 2019 from advertising, branded toys, clothes and home goods, and other partnership deals.

Ryan’s World’s emphasis on consumerism has left many parents feeling uneasy, annoyed, and even angry. Legal, media, and childhood development experts, along with two frustrated parents, have weighed in on the problems with Ryan’s World.

The Problems with Ryan’s World

Many children find Kaji’s wonderment and delight with new toys hypnotic and relatable and often mimic his behavior in the videos. His influence isn’t lost on toy companies searching for social media boosts for their products.

However, Ryan’s World’s toy reviews mix organic and sponsored content, and the non-profit consumer watchdog group Truth in Advertising (TINA) believes they don’t sufficiently distinguish between the two. The channel has come under scrutiny for including paid product recommendations aimed at preschoolers, which are considered to be too young to distinguish between a commercial and a review. 

In late 2019, TINA accused the Kajis of violating FTC law, saying that their sponsored videos had deceived millions of young children who are unable to tell the difference between organic content and advertising. The channel’s sponsors have included major brands like Walmart, Hasbro, Netflix, Chuck E. Cheese, and Nickelodeon, according to the complaint. This raises concerns about the ethical implications of exposing children to any form of advertising when they have yet to develop the cognitive ability to understand the difference between a review and an advertisement.

Many experts believe that young children do not recognize advertising until they are 8 or 9 years old. Some videos on YouTube channels like Ryan ToysReview may include a brief note in small type or a voice-over thank-you to the retailer or manufacturer that provided products, but this is not sufficient to help young children understand what an advertisement is and how it affects them.

The TINA complaint is the most high-profile criticism of Ryan’s World, but it’s not the only one. The channel’s emphasis on novelty-driven consumerism has left many parents ranging from uneasy to annoyed to seething with rage.

Experts’ Perspectives on Ryan’s World

To offer a nuanced perspective on the problems with Ryan’s World, legal, media, and childhood development experts, as well as two frustrated parents, were asked to weigh in.

According to one children’s media expert and pediatrician, unboxing videos are like consumer porn, where the vicarious surprise and excitement of opening something narrows the child’s input and creativity. The expert believes that the videos do not stimulate imagination or creativity but channel it into a preordained story that creates brand awareness and brand loyalty. A media psychologist believes that Ryan’s World’s videos have a harmful impact on children’s behavior. The psychologist believes that children learn that getting stuff makes people happy, and the fleeting moment of excitement in the unveiling, unwrapping, and unboxing of toys creates a dopamine surge of excitement that can lead to addiction.

Parents and educators have a role to play in helping children understand the difference between advertising and a review. This can include teaching children media literacy skills, such as identifying sponsored content and critically evaluating the claims made in advertisements. It can also involve limiting children’s exposure to advertising and promoting alternative forms of entertainment and media that do not rely on advertising to generate revenue.


The issue of advertising to children is not new, and it is not unique to YouTube. However, the rise of social media and the increasing popularity of YouTube channels like Ryan’s World has brought the issue into sharper focus. As children spend more time online, they are increasingly exposed to advertising and other forms of commercial content. This raises concerns about the impact of advertising on children’s health and well-being, as well as their cognitive development.

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