From hushed whispers and rustling paper to hands tickling piles of buttons or blobs of slime, videos featuring chill sounds and images are surging on YouTube. It’s a form of “autonomous sensory meridian response,” or ASMR.
As children are finding these videos, too, parents are dipping into the world of ASMR and kids. For some, it’s a modern solution to the sleepless toddler conundrum – along with stressed-out kids of any age.
Other sources, including a Parent.com report, have even suggested that ASMR videos, designed to trigger soothing “euphoric” sensations, can help kids’ mental health, from potentially easing anxiety to providing a relaxing soundtrack for studying.
There’s been skepticism, too. In a report on tweens doing ASMR on their YouTube channels (to wild success), Wired reports that the videos – which, in one instance, showed a Colorado 13-year-old eating raw honeycomb for 16 minutes – can draw negative feedback, too, with people feeling it’s “weird” or, worse, inappropriate.
Of course, as with anything involving YouTube and kids safety, monitoring is critical – whether your children are making or watching ASMR videos.
Beyond that, though, is ASMR and kids a good mix and potentially helpful – or is it just audio-visual fluff?
A closer look at autonomous sensory meridian response
So, what is ASMR? For that, we turn to ASMR University, an online resource and news center created by Dr. Craig Richard, Ph.D. He’s an ASMR researcher and biopharmaceutical sciences professor at Shenandoah University in Virginia.
“ASMR can be described simply as a variety of soothing sensations (e.g., tingles, relaxation, calmness, sleepiness),” the site notes, “due to a variety of gentle stimuli (e.g., whispering, soft talking, light touches, methodical sounds).”
Examples can range from the deeply relaxed tingles you might feel in your head during a haircut or while “watching Bob Ross create a painting,” it adds.
Wired credits the term to an IT professional named Jennifer Allen who, back in 2010, created the phrase for these sensations and aimed to spread it on Facebook.
Originally aimed more at adults living with stress and anxiety, ASMR content has been increasingly used by parents and caretakers to help children transition from playing to sleeping.
ASMR has links to a traditional Chinese medicine concept called “meridians,” notes Alysia Thomas, an occupational therapist with Kids in Motion Pediatric Therapy, which has locations in Highland, Clarkston, Commerce Township and Brighton.
Meridians are pathways or “body highways” of energy through our systems. Some people know them as “chakras.” ASMR is the immediate response of the meridian in the skull and spine – or the “crown chakra” – being stimulated.
These sensations are brought about by visual, auditory and tactile stimuli. The most popular ASMR videos, according to a New York Times blog post, include paper rustling, whispering, tapping or scratching, and repetitive tasks such as towel folding.
Another reason ASMR might naturally resonate with kids? It mimics some of the same sensations that babies experience while bonding with their moms and dads.
ASMR University adds, “Individuals who trigger ASMR in other individuals demonstrate most of the behavioral traits of bonding behavior used by parents to soothe, comfort and relax infants.”
Ruling out bigger issues before trying ASMR
When it comes to ASMR and kids, it’s important to note that ASMR hasn’t been thoroughly researched by the scientific or medical community, Thomas says. That’s especially relevant if your child has an undiagnosed sensory integration disorder.
Lulling restless kids to sleep – one touted benefit of ASMR – is a good starting point. Say your kid doesn’t want to go to sleep – and he/she also displays behavior like being agitated by seams and tags in clothing, deliberately crashing into things or having constant motion sickness, Thomas says.
In these cases, you should get him or her evaluated before turning to those ASMR videos.
“When you do things like this (without professional help), you don’t know the next step,” Thomas says. “Different sensory techniques, if done inconsistently, can cause ‘seeking behavior’ – which is what we are trying to avoid.”
A closer evaluation might turn up issues with motion, the tactile sensory system and imbalance. In these cases, sensory integration therapy can help children.
Interestingly, people who create ASMR videos mimic some of the therapies Thomas and other occupational therapists use.
“An article I read states the ‘egg cracking’ feeling on the head elicits the response, which I know some children like as a reward for good performance,” Thomas says.
However, the results of professional therapy and ASMR aren’t the same.
“ASMR elicits an instantaneous sensory response that is short term,” Thomas says, “and sensory integration strategies … try to elicit a regulation response that is more long term.”
Monitoring ASMR and kids – and keeping perspective
If you’ve ruled out other sensory issues and want to give ASMR a try with your children, there are a few key things to keep in mind
First and foremost, kids safety on YouTube – one of the main conduits for these videos – is paramount. As with any YouTube content, supervise what your kids see.
When it comes to ASMR, there’s a lot out there. As of June 2018, there were over 10 million ASMR videos available, Forbes reports. While many of the options are kid-friendly and feature slime or unicorns, some are more adult-geared or could strike you as questionable or suggestive. Screen the content first, ideally, and brush up on your security settings. Make sure kids are supervised as they scroll, too, and be careful about auto-play.
Looking for a good place to start? Motherly suggests ASMR channels and playlists devoted to kids, including WhispersRed Sleepy Children and The ASMR Angel. These include toys, games and images “woven together with songs, stories and calming sounds,” it notes.
You can also use cues from your child’s infant years. For example, you may skip videos with tactile responses if backrubs or soft fabrics didn’t feel quite as comforting to your little on.
Finally? Take ASMR with a grain of salt. After all, not everyone even experiences these “tingle” sensations, as a Smithsonian Magazine post notes. And while ASMR steadily grown in popularity, your child may just be asking to watch these videos because, well … kids love YouTube.
Medical experts and parents agree that getting kids to calm down is a daunting task. If you are at the point of letting your kids drift off to strangers soothing whispers, go for it – just be mindful.
This post was originally published in 2019 and is updated regularly.