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How to Keep Kids Safe on YouTube


Here’s what parents need to know about YouTube and keeping kids safe while using it.

I originally wanted to do one simple blog post about keeping children safe online by using parental restrictions. After researching and learning about all the loopholes in common apps and websites though, it became quickly apparent that YouTube -with all of its amazing and wonderful content- needed its own in-depth post on safety. We’ll post more internet safety blogs over the next few weeks. As the mom of two 10 year olds and an 11 year old with iPads, I hope you find this helpful. -Denise Stern

Access to YouTube means kids can easily view billions of videos. Violence and pornography are prohibited but with over 400 hours of video uploaded every minute it’s impossible for YouTube to catch and delete all the illegal or harmful content.  Even with set age filters, inappropriate content still gets through.

Recent examples of inappropriate content being viewed include the many videos of the Christchurch, NZ mass shooting and popular YouTuber Logan Paul’s filming of a dead body, an apparent victim of suicide, hanging from a tree in Japan’s “suicide forest.” It’s good that YouTube removes these videos of course, but removal only happens after the fact. Paul’s 19 million subscribers are mostly young kids so you have to wonder how many saw that hanging body before it was reported, reviewed and removed? 

For these reasons YouTube Kids exists, but it’s not perfect.  The Elsagate scandal, where seemingly harmless videos included sexual, bloody, suicide and other violent acts by children’s characters resulted in the deletion of over 400 channels, but it’s a bit like whack a mole and channels like this one still remain. (I don’t want to give them any more publicity but this CBS article and many others detail more disturbing videos and channels).

In addition to viewing, children need to be protected from exploitation when they themselves are the content. In March 2019 outlets such as NPR reported “tens of millions of videos that could be subject to predatory behavior,” meaning that pedophiles use comments to network and share links of videos starring children.

Again, YouTube acted on this unexpected situation by locking comment sections, but only after the fact and after predators had viewed and shared them.  

Currently under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for collecting kids’ private data, YouTube is considering major changes of moving all children’s content to YouTube Kids, and eliminating the auto-play feature which can steer kids to unsafe content.  These 2 changes can help YouTube keep tighter control over content, but for now here’s what you can do to keep your kids safe:

  1. Be Aware of Knock off Channels– There are fake channels that appear to be the real product. The channels are able to do this by cleverly manipulating keywords to sidestep child-protective algorithms.  Peppa Pigusing a lowercase “L” instead of “i” or other subtle misspellings is one example of how this can happen. Another way is for a channel to include keywords such as “learn to read” or “educational.”  When in doubt look for channels titled “Official Channel” and the checkmark after the title. 
  2. Turn off Auto-Play Mode– Be sure videos don’t unintentionally keep running and eventually get to inappropriate content by turning off the auto-play option in the upper right-hand side of the screen.
  3. Keep Restricted Mode On – Depending on your device, Restricted Mode can be found by clicking your Account, then Settings and then choosing “Restricted Mode” from the menu, or scrolling to the bottom of the page.  Of course, there’s nothing stopping an older web-savvy kid from switching Restricted Mode off, so parents need to be watching over their shoulders or blocking YouTube altogether if they are concerned about inappropriate content.                           

        4. Use the Parental Settings on YouTube Kids– Parents can choose content for kids 8 and younger or older than 8 by using their email address and then a 4 digit passcode once YouTubeKids is                  downloaded. Using this tool will greatly help keep YouTube kids safe.

  5. Only post videos of your own children in PrivateMode– This means that only people with the link to your video can watch it. You choose who sees and comments on your videos.

Of course nothing can help keep our digital natives safe better than parental involvement. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends having proactive conversations with kids before they get online about what sites are allowed and each child’s screentime limits. Keeping devices in common areas of the home also helps parents keep an eye on kids’ activity. If you would like more tools to help manage media use by your children, please see the AAP’s Family Media Use Plan.

If you’d like help limiting screentime, this blog details the major devices available for sale to monitor, control and report on internet activity for all devices in your home.  What are your internet safety tips? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook.

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