Sometimes, parents of young kids can find themselves desperate to have a minute to themselves. The internet has been a lifesaver, with services like YouTube and YouTube Kids offering up vast amounts of entertainment and educational content for children of all ages.
The result is that children’s videos make up a significant audience for YouTube and other providers. Top children-themed channels like Chuchutv have amassed over 13 million subscribers, for example. Recent estimates suggest that children 8 and under are spending an average of 48 minutes a day on a mobile device, and an average of 2 hours 19 minutes a day with screens overall, according to a Common Sense Media survey.
While much of what kids are viewing is useful, there’s reason to be concerned that some of the more popular channels are borderline exploitative. Even when videos start out with familiar characters, some observers believe that combination of factory-like production and discovery algorithms can turn benign content into something that’s inappropriate for children.
YouTube reacted to reports of inappropriate content making its way into these mainstream channels by either taking down channels such as ToyFreaks (with 8m subscribers) altogether or removing videos. All told, the November 2017 crackdown saw the removal of 50 channels and thousands of videos. More recently, the company released new features on its YouTube Kids app that allowed parents to restrict channels to content that is verified by the company as “kid-friendly.”
According to YouTube, the company has stepped up enforcement of its Community Guidelines for both YouTube and YouTube Kids. Another key change: removing ads from inappropriate videos that are aimed at minors. By removing ads from millions of videos, the company is trying to take away the financial incentive for creating bad videos.
How to make YouTube safer for your kids
Enable Restricted Mode on YouTube
While YouTube asserts that it has thousands of people reviewing and flagging content, there are steps that parents can take to improve control over what is accessible to children.
If you are allowing access to videos from the main YouTube site, you can set restrictions by signing in and clicking on the Settings button.
You will see a reference to Restricted Mode after scrolling to the bottom of the page.
Click the drop down button and details about Restricted Mode will appear.
Clicking the On button followed by the Save button will activate Restricted Mode. However, this will not lock the mode. To do that, make sure to log out of your account. Then, when a child uses the site, the settings be set and unchangeable by them.
Important note: If you have more than one browser on your computer, you will need to follow these steps for each browser.This also applies to tablets and other mobile devices.
YouTube offers a video that walks you through the process of implementing YouTube Controls that were just explained.
Set Controls on YouTube Kids
When YouTube introduced YouTube Kids, the app (available for Android and iOS devices) was billed as a safe, easy way for children to find and view videos. YouTube promised that content was “narrowed down” to videos that are appropriate for kids. The app also offers some additional controls that are worth getting familiar with.
After installing the application, a setup screen reminds users that no automated system of filtering is perfect. There’s a method for blocking and reporting content that you think is inappropriate (see picture below).
The next setup screen asks whether the user wants Search On or Search Off. Search On enables kids to search for videos beyond those seen on the home screen. Search Off limits videos to those on the home screen, and those videos that are recommended by the app, which are only listed based on videos watched with the search off. In other words, Search Off is a better option because it reduces the chance the application can find inappropriate versions of safe content
To further limit the app’s ability to discover content beyond what you have found to be appropriate, you can use the slide control to Pause watch history.
By turning this feature off, the user prevents the app from using new video views and search terms to recommend videos.
Add more layers of control
As YouTube itself says, no automated system of filtering is perfect. With automated systems creating videos as fast as YouTube’s automated systems swat them down, it’s a cat-and mouse game that parents will find hard to keep up with.
Consider adding additional tools to help you in your quest to keep your kids safe while being entertained and educated.
- Use a separate parental control program. Most of the programs offer the ability to do additional filtering of content over YouTube’s built in controls, and some have the added utility of allowing a set amount of internet time per day before shutting off access.
- Consider using networking services like OpenDNS (owned by Cisco) that help you manage your WiFi and internet access. These services can provide additional levels of content filtering over that offered by parental control software, and have an added benefit of helping automatically blocking access to sites that are a security risk.
Ultimately, there’s no fail-safe system to keep your kids from viewing questionable content other than to not give them access at all. Barring that, be sure to routinely monitor what your kids have been watching – there’s no substitute for a parent’s own judgement and vigilance.