7 Ways to Make YouTube Kids Safer

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Kids love videos — the sillier the better. And it’s a rare parent who hasn’t used them to secure a little quiet time. YouTube is, by far, the largest source of videos of all kinds. When the company created the YouTube Kids app in 2015, many parents assumed its content would be carefully curated and reliably child-friendly. 

Much of it is. YouTube Kids allows young children to happily swipe through a vast collection of content featuring characters like Winnie the Pooh and Peppa Pig. Mixed into this education clips from reputable sources like Khan Academy and videos created by users, which vary enormously in content and quality. A small percentage includes bizarre and even traumatizing images, sometimes of those beloved characters doing lewd and violent things.

How does this happen? Google uses artificial intelligence to decide whether a video is suitable for children. Although AI has come a long way, it doesn’t always detect the nuances that distinguish adult satire from the innocent content it’s meant to mock. And AI is often oblivious to trolls and click-bait. In its defense, Google warns that children may encounter inappropriate content and asks parents to flag such material so other kids won’t see it.

But even when content is properly curated, parents should be aware that children see a lot of commercial messages on YouTube Kids. While YouTube Red memberships are free of paid advertising, children still have access to entire channels created by companies like Hasbro or McDonalds. Also, unfortunately, parents can’t set their own filters for content or create playlists of acceptable videos, such as those reviewed by Common Sense Media.

In an effort to keep your kids safe while using YouTube Kids, consider taking advantage of these options: 

1. Change the password. It’s a good idea to frequently change your YouTube Kids password. Search for the “Grown-ups Only” section and unlock it by using the random four-digit passcode that is provided. Numbers are spelled out to ensure that prereaders can’t use the code. If your child can read, click the “Set my own Passcode” button.

2. Disable the search feature. Google allows parents to set up a profile for each child, so the search feature can be enabled or disabled (it defaults to disabled), depending on the child’s age and self control.

3. Review history. Because YouTubeKids doesn’t have filters, parents can’t necessarily prevent kids from seeing something they don’t want them to see. The app makes it easy to review history, which at least allows a conversation after the fact about why a video is objectionable.

4. Block videos you don’t want your child to see. If you come across something unsuitable, just tap the triple-dot button for the video and then tap the “Block” button.

5. Report videos no child should see. Reporting gets the attention of human screeners who are actually counting on conscientious parents to let them know about unsuitable content that slips by the YouTube Kids robots. Think of this as a public service. Just tap the triple-dot button and then the “Report” button.

6. Set limits. To its credit, YouTubeKids does include a timer. Once it’s set, a colored progress bar lets your child see how much time is left in a session. When the clock runs out, a “Time’s Up” animation appears and the app locks until a parent enters the access code.

7. Consider other options. YouTubeKids may have the largest collection of videos but, when it comes to kids, quality is preferable to quantity. Companies like Disney, Nick Jr. and PBS KIDS have brands to protect so they are likely to be more careful about what appears in their apps. You can also consult video alternatives compiled by Common Sense Media at commonsensemedia.org/lists/streaming-video-apps.

Carolyn Jabs is the author of “Cooperative Wisdom: Bringing People Together When Things Fall Apart,” available at Amazon and cooperativewisdom.org.