I love YouTube. I'm a big fan of the app. I love that when I needed to replace a headlight on my 8 year-old car that there was a man in the middle of Minnesota to guide me through the process step-by-step. Unfortunately, YouTube isn’t all DIY instructional videos.
The kids I work with are not supposed to be watching porn. I asked a boy one day how he was accessing it when he wasn't supposed to be. He replied, “I’m not watching porn, I’m watching YouTube.” Later that night, I typed the word sex into the search bar on the site and my jaw hit the floor.
Public service announcement: If you think YouTube is 100% appropriate for your kids, you're incorrect. I, like so many other adults, was under the impression YouTube was OK for kids until I was educated. I'm here to pass this information on to you.
According to Google Play, “YouTube Kids is a world of learning and play made just for kids.” However, if you look at the reviews on Common Sense Media, both the parents and kids give it two stars. A number of the reviews state, “Inappropriate content slips through.” One reviewer shockingly reported that they watched Minnie Mouse get an abortion and die by suicide. Although there is a lot of appropriate content one YouTube Kids, don’t be fooled into thinking your child can watch unsupervised.
Use Parental Controls
- YouTube has an age restriction of 13 years old. If your children are 13 or older, create their own Gmail account with their correct age so you can set restrictions on the account. If an adult's Gmail account is used or they lie about their age when creating their Gmail account, (which kids frequently do) they'll have access to everything and anything on YouTube when signed in.
- To see what your children are watching, check their history. When logged in, click the History link in the left menu.
- If the history has been deleted look at the suggested videos. They're an indication the type of content watched.
- Restricted Mode on YouTube is their version of parental controls. Use it! When logged in, click the account icon on the top right, and click Restricted Mode to turn it on.
Last year, 400 hours worth of videos were uploaded EVERY minute. This makes it impossible for YouTube to monitor all the content posted on the website. The inability to monitor all the videos makes it possible for sexual, violent and disturbing videos to fall through the cracks. And keep in mind, even if a video is appropriate that doesn't mean the comments are. The comment section on YouTube is notorious for being negative and inappropriate.
Tips and Tricks
- If you really want to know what type of content your children are watching, follow the people they've subscribed to. You will have a better idea what the content is like, and can talk about it.
- Common Sense Media reviews YouTube channels. That is a good place to start if you want to see what type of content is on a channel.
- The safest way to supervise the content they are watching on YouTube is to watch it with them.
You Can’t Have Just One
The Ruffles commercial says it best. The way the app is set up, they push video after video which leads to binge watching. Half the allure of YouTube is this autoplay function. Turn it off in the account settings.
Youtube can be a beneficial app. I use it all the time in therapy sessions because these videos speak to kids. However, I make sure I have viewed the content prior to watching it with a child. Like so many things on the Internet, it's important to have informed consent, don’t trust something you haven't researched yourself and make sure you are an educated consumer.
Cheryl Kosmerl, MSW, LCSW
I'm a clinical social worker and child advocate. After more than 20 years of working with children and adolescents in a variety of settings I created Sexting Solutions, a successful program designed to teach kids to respect themselves and others, show empathy and stop abuse. Intended as an alternative to legal consequences for kids who were caught sexting, it focuses on building skills that develop a solid foundation for healthier adolescent years and beyond. Connect with me on LinkedIn by clicking the icon directly below.