If you’re like most busy parents, you have a long to-do list. Bored kids can prevent you from getting things done, so you turn on YouTube to keep them entertained. On the surface, YouTube looks like an engaging video platform. Where’s the harm in funny cat videos, after all? But if you take a closer look, you’ll discover a dark secret.
YouTube keeps people on its site by providing personalized recommendations that encourage viewers to continue watching. The platform pulls data from video content and combines the information with data from content watched by similar users. This data then informs its recommendations.
So if your child watches a video about summer fashion trends, YouTube may recommend videos about summer shorts. This could lead to recommendations about getting lean legs for summer, followed by videos promoting unhealthy weight loss. Before you know it, your 11-year-old daughter is obsessed with achieving a “thigh gap.”
In more extreme cases, some YouTube content normalizes hate and encourages acts of violence. According to the New Zealand government, YouTube helped radicalize the terrorist who attacked two New Zealand mosques in 2019.
This is alarming information for parents with young, impressionable children. However, you can take steps to protect your children from harmful content. The tips below can help you guard your kids against YouTube’s perils.
1. Get Your Child a Kid-Friendly Phone
Cellphones are helpful tools to keep you connected with your child when you’re apart. A quick text can let you know they’re safe while hanging out with friends. However, standard smartphones also come with their dangers. Access to the internet makes it easy for kids to get on YouTube and scroll through content without parental supervision.
Instead of giving your child an iPhone designed for adults, provide them with a device created specifically for children. Cell phones for kids are made with your child’s safety in mind. Kids phones have no internet access or apps, thereby protecting children from explicit content. Cell phones for kids make it easy for your child to stay connected with you and their friends without added risks.
2. Download the YouTube Kids App
YouTube’s main platform wasn’t created for kids, so it’s not designed to censor content unless parents turn on “restricted mode.” However, in 2015 YouTube announced YouTube Kids. This stand-alone app was designed to help children enjoy age-appropriate content on the platform. Using a set of automated filters, YouTube tries to ensure that only child-friendly content makes it onto the app.
However, YouTube doesn’t manually review every video uploaded onto YouTube Kids. So sometimes, videos containing violent content slip through the cracks. To prevent your kids from coming across these videos, you can turn on the “Approved Content Only” mode. This prevents kids from searching content and only lets them watch videos that you have approved.
3. Set Up Supervised Accounts
Tweens and teens might find the content on YouTube Kids too juvenile for their taste. However, if the thought of your child scrolling through unfiltered content makes you uncomfortable, there’s another option.
In 2021, YouTube started beta testing supervised accounts. Supervised accounts are managed by you, the parent, allowing you to choose the content settings for your child. Parents can choose from among three content settings: Explore, Explore More, and Most of YouTube.
The Explore setting is considered appropriate for children 9+ and includes content like gaming videos, vlogs, news, and music videos. However, this setting blocks livestreams. The Explore More setting was created for children 13+. This setting includes a wider variety of videos and livestreams. The Most of YouTube setting lets children view all content that isn’t marked as 18+.
4. Create Family Rules Around Technology
As a parent, it’s your job to set limits for your child. Doing so can teach them how to self-regulate technology use and recognize when it’s negatively interfering with their life. Sitting down as a family to create a family technology plan will help set expectations and ensure everyone is on board.
One rule parents should consider is “tech-free zones.” Tech-free zones are areas of the house where technology is not allowed. Examples include bedrooms, bathrooms, or other private areas of the home. By banning technology in bedrooms and bathrooms, parents can ensure their child only uses the internet in public spaces.
What to Do If Your Child Sees Inappropriate Content
While you can protect your child from harmful content at home, they may still get exposed to it by friends. If you suspect your kid has seen something disturbing, encourage them to open up. You want them to come to you if this situation happens again, so let them know they’re not in trouble.
Should you discover that your child was exposed to harmful content at a friend’s house, talk with the friend’s parents. It’s likely that they don’t know what happened and can take steps to prevent it from occurring in the future. Additionally, you can let the parents know that you’d rather your child stay off the internet at other people’s homes.
YouTube isn’t all bad. The platform houses some great child-friendly educational content. Unfortunately, some people upload harmful content as well. Following the above advice can help protect your child from disturbing videos so they can enjoy YouTube safely.