YouTube has had its fair share of horror stories over the years when it comes to dubious content and impressionable children.
Whether it’s sinister hoaxes like the Momo Challenge, which turned out to be completely fake, or incidents like children eating dishwasher detergent, which was very real, there is seemingly never a shortage of reasons for parents to worry about their children’s online presence.
Add to this the general fear of child grooming that has been around since the early days of the Internet, and even relatively minor issues, by comparison, such age-inappropriate content, and it is easy to see why parents might be reluctant to let their children roam free through the pages of YouTube without supervision.
That being said, you can only watch your children’s activities so much. And, while it may be possible to supervise their every move early on in life, there comes a time where it is not feasible to keep an eye on them all of the time without seriously limiting their freedom.
Of course, we can’t guide in general parenting—that’s not what this blog is about—but we can give you advice specifically as it pertains to your children and YouTube.
YouTube’s Policy on Children
Largely thanks to regulatory intervention, YouTube is quite strict about not allowing children unfettered access to their platform. Even to the point that if you register a children’s account (more on that later), YouTube will not allow that account to access the full YouTube service even if you, the parent, want to enable it.
YouTube’s terms of service state that you have to be over thirteen years of age to have a full YouTube account that can access the regular service, rather than YouTube Kids—a moderated version of YouTube. Furthermore, children under thirteen cannot upload videos to the platform.
That being said, YouTube does not demand proof of identity when you sign up for an account, so there is nothing to stop you or your child from creating a YouTube account and lying in the age field.
Still, for a concerned parent, it can help to know that, if you aren’t lying in the age field, YouTube actually does a lot to protect your children. Whether they do enough to protect your children is a judgement only you can make, but they certainly take a good deal of the burden off of you when it comes to moderating what your child watches.
“Made For Kids” Content
Primarily due to the regulations we hinted at above, YouTube is very proactive when it comes to content that is made for children, regardless of who made the content or whether it is declared as made for kids by the uploader.
The main difference with Made For Kids content is that the selection of advertisements that can be served around this content is considerably more restricted.
This is partly due to the fact that YouTube is required to not store personal data for children, which deters many advertisers because they want to target their ads at specific demographics, which can’t be done if you have no information about the viewer.
Of course, there is also the fact that some advertisements are not suitable for a young audience, which further reduces the pool of advertisements that can be played to children.
It is worth reiterating that these rules apply to any videos that YouTube deems to be made for children. Granted, most of the time, they will know this because the uploader declares that it is made for children, but in some cases, YouTube will decide themselves, regardless of what the uploader says.
Things to Look Out For
It’s not hard to find YouTube tips for parents articles that cover the obvious things; violence, sexual content, and generally inappropriate topics.
These are, we feel, quite obvious, and nothing new. Parents have had to be mindful of their children watching inappropriate content since the 1970s, and it is something we are very culturally aware of today.
So we thought we’d go over some of the less obvious—and more uniquely YouTube—things to be mindful of as a parent.
Envy and Depression
Social media, in general, has brought with it a host of new challenges for society. Perhaps one of the least expected of these challenges is depression as a result of envy caused by continually seeing the glossy lives of online personalities.
This phenomenon may be more associated with platforms like Facebook and Instagram, but the premise is no less applicable to YouTube. Essentially, your children see the seemingly perfect lives of their favourite YouTubers day in, day out, and begin to feel depressed that their life is not as good.
In these cases, it is important to stress to your child that what they see on YouTube, even in seemingly honest and personal vlogs, is not necessarily representative of real life. In much the same way that you should explain to your child that Spider-Man is not a documentary, and they shouldn’t try to swing from the roof, you should explain to them that the videos they see on YouTube are crafted, and only show what the YouTuber wants them to show.
Nobody’s life is perfect.
There is a whole niche on YouTube dedicated to children opening packages and demoing toys, which is very popular because children love to see new toys.
Of course, toy commercials have been around for decades, and children seeing a shiny new toy on the television and wanting that toy is nothing new, but it’s a little different on YouTube.
The problem is that these videos typically feature children opening and playing with the toys. To make matters worse, the channels that produce this kind of content are often families and shoot the videos as though their children are getting this unending stream of new toys as part of their everyday life.
Unlike the commercials we mentioned, this can create an expectation in your child that this is how things are. After all, they are not watching an advertisement, but a child just like them, seemingly living their life. It’s only natural for your child to wonder why their life is not full of new toys in exciting hiding places every day.
Again, the trick to avoiding this is to talk to your child and make sure they understand that videos like this are made for entertainment value, and not just filmed during someone’s average day. Many of these channels donate the toys they feature, so be sure to explain that as well.
This one is a little subjective in that different parents will have different views on whether it is a cause for concern or not.
YouTube features plenty of current events in the form of news reports, commentary, and other formats. It is safe to say that the world has not been a particularly happy place in recent years, and with the light of social media shining into every crevice of the world lately, there will always be plenty of negativity to make YouTube videos about.
Being a parent is all about striking balances, and this is one of those times. Where the right balance lies between sheltering your child from the world entirely and over-exposing them to it for you is a judgement you will have to make as a parent.
We are merely warning you that there is a lot of current events content on YouTube, and with the state of the world lately, your child could well be exposed to far more negativity than you would like.
Technically this would fall under those obvious examples we mentioned above—children have been getting injured trying to recreate stunts they have seen on television for as long as there has been television. Still, in light of the uniquely Internet threats that platforms like YouTube have been witness to, it is worth mentioning this one.
Sometimes through malicious intent, sometimes through pure stupidity, Internet “challenges” crop up on a semi-regular basis. These challenges involve people—often children—filming themselves performing some action that can be dangerous to their wellbeing.
These kinds of challenges started harmlessly enough, with things like planking in strange places, doing a particular dance, or eating a spoonful of cinnamon. The Ice Bucket challenge that stormed the Internet is an example of this kind of challenge that actually did some good in the world, raising a lot of money for charity. Unfortunately, as is often the case with dares—which is essentially what Internet challenges are—things tend to escalate. More recent challenges have involved attempting to eat corn on the cob using power tools, and the detergent-eating incident we mentioned above.
The corn on a cob challenge naturally led to several injuries, and the problem with the detergent incident shouldn’t need explaining here.
YouTube Tips for Parents
Being aware of the dangers YouTube can present for your children is only part of the battle—you also need to know how to combat them. Every parent handles things their own way, and, abusive behaviour aside, it is not for us to say who is right in their parenting methods.
That being said, here are some approaches to take with your children to help keep them safe on YouTube, and you can make your own informed decisions as a parent.
And, just to address it, preventing your child from watching YouTube at all is obviously an option, but this is a blog about YouTube, so we’ll be sticking to methods that involve your child still watching YouTube.
Talk to Your Child
One of the most obvious ways to protect your child from many things in life, not just YouTube, is education.
Take curse words as an example. The chances are, you will never be able to prevent your child from hearing curse words, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It is not your children knowing those words that are the problem; it is them saying them.
If you can educate your child to learn not to use inappropriate words, you don’t need to worry about them occasionally hearing one.
YouTube can be approached similarly. Properly educating your child on things like YouTuber’s lives not being as perfect as they look on screen, and not doing dangerous things just because a YouTuber “challenged” you to, will significantly reduce the causes for concern when your child watches YouTube.
Set up a Children’s Account
Google allows you to create accounts for your children that are restricted in several ways to prevent your children from seeing content they shouldn’t be seeing.
One of the main ways it limits YouTube is by preventing access from that account to the full YouTube platform, instead of taking them to the YouTube Kids platform. It is worth noting that the YouTube Kids platform is not available in-browser, so your child will not be able to watch YouTube on a full computer. They will be able to watch it on a phone or tablet, of course.
This account will automatically convert to a full account when your child turns thirteen, so be sure to put the correct date in. It’s also worth reiterating that you cannot choose to allow your child full access to YouTube. The only way a child’s account can access the full platform is if that child turns thirteen.
Create a Family Account
The overly restrictive nature of YouTube children’s accounts may be perfect for younger children, but many parents feel it is too restrictive for older children of around ten years old and up. Still, that doesn’t mean they’re ready to give their children the keys to the Internet.
In these cases, consider creating a single YouTube account that is used by the whole family.
This will allow you to keep tabs on what your child is watching while still allowing them more freedom to access YouTube.
One of the worst parts of YouTube from a mental health standpoint is the comments.
YouTube automatically disable comments on videos made for children, but you can also choose to disable them on any video you upload. If your child starts uploading content—either contributing to an adult-run channel or running their own channel after they have turned thirteen—consider disabling the comments if YouTube doesn’t do it for you.
Much of the negativity on the platform comes from the comments section, and there is little to be gained from exposing your child that.