From a parent’s perspective, YouTube can be a lifesaver. When you’re in an airport, on an important phone call, or just need to get things done, giving kids a device and saying, “Have at it” is kind of nice.
Today’s kids are smart. Even my two-year-old knows how to unlock my phone and find YouTube on it. Our Generation Z is growing up in a fast-paced and ever-changing virtual society. Social media is here to stay and our children’s “normal” is a swirling universe of Snapchats, status updates, and videos.
Videos, videos, and more videos.
YouTube has taught my kids how to make crafts, how to do magic tricks, and how to Dougie. But like all good things, bad people try to ruin them. With as many good videos floating around on YouTube, there are enough bad ones kids can bump into easily and accidentally.
What are my kids really watching on YouTube?
A few weeks ago while I was running on my elliptical, my 4-year-old daughter was watching YouTube on a device next to me. She likes to watch those odd videos where an unknown hand opens up little wrapped gifts and reveals what’s inside. Crazy as it is, kids love that stuff.
She’d started on one video and quickly followed the “related videos” like a virtual treasure hunt, clicking and tapping from one video to the next. I had zoned out what was going on until I heard something disturbing. Some serious potty talk was coming from her YouTube video, talk of toilets and farting and diarrhea that was downright disgusting. Not anything heinous, but not something you’d want your impressionable child watching.
It’s gross and it’s there on YouTube.
Sadly there is a current epidemic of trolls uploading vulgar, violent, or just plain weird videos on YouTube. These videos look like harmless kid videos, often featuring cartoon characters that look like your kids’ favorites—Spiderman, Doc McStuffins, and Mickey Mouse to name a few.
These cartoon or claymation videos are harmless for the first 30 seconds or so and then things get disturbing. You’ll find them sitting on the toilet, injecting needles into pumpkins, turning into scary zombies, and other disturbing things.
What’s alarming is how easily kids can find these videos. The trolls who create such videos tag them with kid-friendly words that parents and children frequently search—words like babies, superheroes, dolls, and kid videos.
What can we do about it?
Aside from deleting YouTube from your devices (which many parents have already done), here are a few things you can do to monitor what your kids are watching on YouTube.
1. Turn on your YouTube “Restriction” Mode
Head to YouTube and scroll to the bottom of the screen where you’ll find a tab labeled “Restriction Mode.”
Turning your restriction mode on allows YouTube to hide videos containing inappropriate content that has been flagged by other users. It’s not a sure-fire solution, but it will help.
2. Only watch with an adult present.
Make it a rule that kids can only watch YouTube with an adult present. We love to have family dance parties to popular YouTube songs and my kids love to search out crafts and science projects. YouTube can be an amazing tool for your family, but it’s best used under adult supervision.
If your kids have been on alone and you’d like to see what they’ve been watching, head to your “Watch History” on the left hand side of YouTube’s main page. It will show you all the videos that have been recently watched.
3. Download the YouTube Kids App.
Did you know there is a separate YouTube app for kids? This app was designed by YouTube to curate kid-friendly content for your little ones. Although it isn’t completely failsafe, it is definitely more secure.
3. Flag inappropriate content.
If you or your child comes across something inappropriate, vulgar, violent, or just plain creepy on YouTube and it leaves a bad taste in your mouth, flag it by clicking on the three dots and “More” tab. From there, you can report it to YouTube.
The disappointing thing about flagging inappropriate videos is that even if they are removed, the creators can and will just upload them again in a few hours. However, flagging these videos does help YouTube filter them in its restriction mode.
4. Look at the source.
Like all good research, you have to look at the source of these videos and gauge their validity. Content coming directly from Disney or PBS.org are a safe bet. But when videos come from “Smile Kids Happy Videos” or “Jeremy2345,” those may not be sources you can trust.
5. Subscribe to parent-approved channels and create a playlist for your kids.
One great way to ensure that your kids have access to good YouTube videos is to go in and subscribe to channels you know and trust. This way you’ll get recommended videos from the channels you subscribe to and you can even create playlists for your kids to watch back-to-back videos on. Playlists are great for those times when you can’t be there to monitor their viewing.
6. Turn it off and tell an adult.
A part of growing up in this technological age is that kids will have to separate the good stuff from the bad. Teach kids and teens how to recognize a bad video when they see one. When they come across something unsavory online, follow this procedure: turn it off and tell an adult.
We can’t be there every single second our kids are online, but we can set up rules and procedures to help keep them safe. Teaching them to monitor themselves is one of the best lessons a child of Generation Z can learn.
*Non-HowDoesShe images courtesy of Unsplash.com. YouTube images are screenshots from YouTube.com.