Have you ever gotten onto YouTube to find out how to do a French braid or some DIY tutorial, and then next thing you know, a half-hour has passed and you’re watching a 15 minute long hodgepodge of cat videos? YouTube can be addictive! This seems to happen to me all the time. YouTube has an exponentially large amount of videos out there ranging from video tutorials, to music videos, to mind numbing videos of people which should most certainly be precluded by the “don’t try this at home” disclaimer. You can literally find anything on YouTube to pass the time for any age – young kids through adulthood, from Peppa Pig to porn.
So, with such a wide array of content available, how do we protect our kids and teens from seeing inappropriate content. How do you keep your child from accidentally misspelling a word and stumbling across some content that you never ever wanted them to be exposed to? Is there a way around this or should you ban your child from ever using the website? Let’s take a look.
First of all, if you’re lost and have no idea what YouTube is, it’s an app / website that is recommended for people aged 13 and older. Anyone with an account can post videos, subscribe to channels, comment on other peoples’ videos, and much more. Many people have even used YouTube as a way to become famous or recognized, for example Jake Paul, who was on the Disney Channel show “Bizaardvark,” was discovered from the channel he had with his brother where they posted funny videos. Also, with YouTube anyone can have access to the videos and comments uploaded on the website, whether they have an account or not. For example, some people create accounts to post videos and subscribe to the channels they are interested in, while others have used YouTube for years and have never created an account, but rather opted to continue as a “guest”.
Now where censorship can get tricky is, like Facebook and Instagram, YouTube relies on users to report if content is inappropriate or should be censored from viewers. YouTube then looks at the reported content and judges whether the video should be censored for users +18 years, removed from the site, or if it is okay for viewers. An area where this could be problematic is that if an inappropriate video has been recently uploaded and not yet reported, it could potentially pop up on a search. Also, videos that are not reported for inappropriate content will not be brought to the YouTube team’s attention for its suitable censorship. We encourage parents to be sure to censor what your child and teen can and cannot watch, and YouTube has come up with several ways to do so.
YouTube has a “Safety Mode” that filters out censored content, and there is also theYouTube Kids option, which is recommended for kids 7 and up. According to Common Sense Media, this is a “kid-targeted portal to YouTube that features curated, ad-supported TV shows, music, educational videos, and user-created content”. This alternative kid version of YouTube has ways for parents to control what a child is watching such as “a timer, the ability to block videos or channels, and a way to disable the search feature”. However, this is very important, please be sure to recognize that some videos (like the ones not reported) can slip through. For instance, there have been reports from parents whose children were watching a kids show on YouTube Kids, and they looked down and there was porn that flashed quickly on the screen or other content not appropriate for that age – like scary images or violent scenes. Also, the YouTube safety feature can be easily turned off in the settings if the children are familiar with the setting.
So what do we do?
With the internet, nothing is 100% fool proof, but these features are overall a much safer place for young children to explore. Other things you may consider doing in addition to the YouTube safety feature or YouTube Kids, include: making sure you check in on what they are watching occasionally, or setting a rule where you can ask them to show you what they are watching at any time, and they have to turn the device over to you immediately. You can also set rules in play like not allowing them to be on the iPad or other electronic devices unless they are in the room with you. Obviously, the rules will be different depending on the age of your child – PreK vs. High school.
Remember, the point of these articles are not to scare you out of using the internet, nor to convince you not to allow your kids to use it. The internet is a way of life these days; especially once you get to upper levels of school, you have to use the internet. These are just tips to help us navigate through online life a little smoother. Ultimately, the decision is yours on how much access you give your child to the internet, we just like to make sure the cards are all laid out on the table.
For more questions about YouTube Kids or other YouTube features, visit commonsense media.org.