A Parent’s Guide to YouTube & Parental ControlsAug 10, 2022
YouTube is a video sharing platform that can allow children access to a whole world of exciting and educational resources.
However, despite the benefits it can offer, it’s important to remember that the regular YouTube platform was not designed to be used by children. Because of this, there are risks associated with allowing your children free reign on YouTube.
- How YouTube works?
- What are the risks for children using YouTube?
- YouTube's parental controls
- YouTube Kids
How YouTube works?
YouTube is populated with user-generated content, meaning that the videos available on the platform are uploaded by individual users (and are not manually reviewed by YouTube before you are able to stream them).
YouTube makes its money by placing ads on these videos—using a sophisticated algorithm to match the right advertisement to the right audience.
YouTube is accessible via the website or an app. Because its content is streamed over the internet, videos are accessible at any time by any compatible device.
What are the risks for children using YouTube?
There are a few specific areas of concern when it comes to allowing children access to the YouTube platform.
It wasn’t designed to be used by children
Technically YouTube isn’t supposed to be used by children under the age of 13. Even if your kids are only looking at videos that are appropriate for their age range, they’re accessing that content from a platform that wasn’t designed for them and therefore may not have robust enough measures in place to protect them while they’re using it.
User generated content
One statistic suggests that 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. There’s certainly no way the human beings behind the platform can keep up with vetting all that content!
Even though YouTube does have processes and policies in place for removing harmful content, these are not designed to explicitly protect kids from accessing content that is not age appropriate.
The other issue is that videos that are deemed to contain harmful content are removed—meaning that there’s no guarantee that children were prevented from viewing it before it got taken down.
YouTube’s algorithm will suggest videos to watch based on your viewing history. Along with this, it will auto play a related video at the end of the current one you are watching.
Whilst the algorithm is good at suggesting additional content that it thinks a viewer will be interested in, it is far from perfect. You may find that a harmless Lego video can quickly lead to something that is not age appropriate, or rather completely inappropriate for your child to see.
YouTube’s M.O. is to generate revenue by displaying ads on the videos that are uploaded to the platform. Because it isn’t designed to be used by children, there’s once again no guarantee that these adverts will be appropriate to the content that they’re being displayed on. Not to mention the fact that you may not want your kids to be advertised to in the first place!
YouTube has a monthly subscription option - YouTube Red - that removes these adverts from most of the content on the platform. Although you should be aware that some types of content—such as TV and movie purchases and rentals - may still contain ads.
The comments section
Unfortunately, in this day and age it’s not just the videos themselves that you have to be concerned with. The comments section under videos can often be a breeding ground for hateful language or expressions of opinions that are just plain inappropriate for your kids to read.
YouTube's parental controls
The parental controls are somewhat limited for the regular YouTube platform but there are measures you can take to better protect your children when they’re using it.
YouTube Restricted Mode
YouTube’s parental control function is known as “Restricted mode”. When the restricted mode is enabled, it “uses signals such as video title, description, metadata, Community Guidelines reviews, and age-restrictions to identify and filter out potentially mature content.”
To switch to Restricted mode (on a computer) once you’re logged into your YouTube account:
- Click your profile photo in the top right of your screen.
- At the bottom of the drop-down menu that displays, click Restricted mode.
- In the top-right box that opens, to turn Restricted mode on or off, click Activate Restricted mode.
Restricted mode works at a browser level, which means you’ll need to enable it for each device that your child accesses YouTube on.
Don’t forget to turn on Restriction mode in the YouTube app
If your child is viewing YouTube via an app—rather than accessing the YouTube website through a browser—you’ll also need to update the permissions in your smartphone and/or tablet to ensure Restriction mode is enabled for the app too.
There are different methods for enabling Restriction mode on smart phones and tablets. Google’s support page has more information on how to do this for specific devices.
YouTube Kids is a separate app that is—as the name would suggest—aimed at children.
Still no manual reviews
The platform is not totally fool proof as YouTube warns that videos are not manually reviewed. This means that there is still the possibility that your kids could view something that is inappropriate for them. Read my full guide on YouTube Kids to help parents and caregivers understand the platform and its safety features
However, YouTube states that “YouTube Kids offers a safer YouTube experience, using automated systems to choose content from the broader universe of videos on YouTube.”
In built flagging system
Because they recognize the potential for harmful content to slip through the net, YouTube Kids allows you to flag content that you feel may be inappropriate.
You can disable the search function
Once your child has watched a few videos on YouTube Kids, you can turn off the search function which will prevent them from being able to search for any more content in the app. This means that only videos that appear in the home screen can be watched—the home screen will still populate with additional recommended videos, but these will be suggested based on the videos that your child has already watched.
Turning off the search function limits—but doesn’t eradicate—the potential for kids to access content you don’t want them watching.
Purchase my full Parent’s Guide to YouTube and YouTube Kids for all the information you need to help your children safely access the fun and educational content that the video sharing platform has to offer—whilst avoiding the creepy and unsavoury stuff!
Also, grab this free Digital Parenting Starter pack for tips on screen balance, online video games, or parental controls.
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