When YouTube started back in 2005 it was a big hit with kids…and 14 years later that hasn’t changed. Kids use YouTube to find entertainment, instructions for things that range from video games to multiplication, news, and humor. In fact, YouTube was so popular with kids that in 2015 the website decided to create a channel specifically geared towards younger children called YouTube Kids.
Yet for as much good content, there’s a ton of bad stuff that you as a parent should know about. “But wait,” you say. “YouTube Kids is safe, right?”
Everyone knows of the inappropriate material on YouTube that’s easily accessible to kids: profanity, sexual content, drugs, and alcohol. The good news is that YouTube has restricted emotionally upsetting and violent stunts and pranks. Still, you need to keep an eye on what your child looks at on YouTube since unfit content can surface even with the most harmless search.
YouTube Kids was developed for 7-year-olds and older to have a safer space. The site, which is managed by YouTube, contains music, content made by the users, TV shows like Thomas and Friends or Winnie the Pooh and educational videos. It doesn’t look anything like YouTube—it’s colorful, has silly sounds, easy picture-based navigation, and funny visuals.
YouTube Kids has some parental controls one of which is a terrific feature: a timer; this allows you to set a time limit on how long your child uses the app. Pretty neat, huh? One other great parental control is whether to let your child be able to search or not; however, there’s no way to set filters on what your child searches. So it’s probably better to block the search function.
You can also set up profiles for each child and they’ll get to choose their own avatar and password—but you can override that if you wish. Once the profile is created, YouTube Kids will adjust the selections to your child’s age and individuality.
It all sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, hold on. YouTube Kids has been having problems since its inception. The problem is probably because the content of YouTube Kids comes from YouTube itself. YouTube separates the adult material from the kid stuff and sends the kid-friendly content to YouTube Kids—or it’s supposed to. Since it first began, users have noticed things popping up on YouTube Kids like:
- A spoof of the movie Casino starring Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie that’s loaded with cursing.
- Drug use and pedophilia jokes.
- Cartoons with graphic sexual language.
- Characters emulating dangerous behaviors like playing with matches.
- Explicit grown-up conversations about pornography, child suicide, and family violence.
YouTube changed their moderating technique but it wasn’t enough. Nearly 3 years later they finally replied to media’s and parent’s misgivings about material on not only their website but YouTube Kids too. YouTube stated:
“Content that misleads or endangers children is unacceptable to us. We have clear policies against these videos and we enforce them aggressively. We use a combination of machine learning, algorithms and community flagging to determine content in the YouTube Kids app. The YouTube team is made up of parents who care deeply about this, and are committed to making the app better every day.”
Even with more humans moderating YouTube and YouTube Kids, there are still dangerous problems.
- It was discovered within the past year by an FL pediatrician and mother, Dr. Free Hess, that there are numerous videos on YouTube Kids showing abuse to female characters, suicides and school shootings. Dr. Hess flagged 10 such videos which have since been deleted by YouTube. She even recorded some and posted them on her blog—but there were so many of these videos that kept popping up she had to stop. These videos begin on YouTube and somehow make their way to YouTube Kids.
- In one horrid video originally posted by Toasty Qween on YouTube, a girl kills herself with a knife while the song “Don’t Worry Child” plays. This video has more than 1 million views on YouTube!
- A user named Rika Xox has a despicable video that shows up on YouTube Kids called “Smoke and Mirrors”. This frightful cartoon video shows a girl stabbing another girl in a chair.
- Another awful YouTube Kids cartoon called “Doki! Doki! Rainclouds New End!!!” depicts a girl narrating an attempted suicide. Another character enters the suicide scene and tries to talk the main character out of it.
- There’s an appalling video posted by TellBite; it’s a cartoon with Minecraft graphics and is part of a series. It’s called “Monster School: SLENDERMAN HORROR GAME”. In the cartoon someone goes in a school in search of their victim, finds them hiding behind a desk and shoots the person. After the shooting, the shooter laughs. This channel on YouTube has thousands of views and 167,000 subscribers!
- Dr. Hess has also uncovered other terrifying animations on YouTube Kids that portray dangerous and harmful relationships.
Clearly, these videos are probably not something you’d want your kids to be watching.
Alarmingly, other parents have also revealed there are suicide instruction videos on YouTube and YouTube Kids! One was a 9-second clip embedded into cartoons showing a man teaching kids how to slice their wrists, saying:
“Remember kids: sideways for attention, longways for results. End it!”
This video has been deleted from YouTube and YouTube Kids but it took a lot of effort from frustrated, angry parents to get it done. Would you believe it took YouTube Kids a week before it was actually removed? That’s unacceptable! Unfortunately, removing one video clip doesn’t mean that no one else can embed a similar clip into a video—and there are definitely more clips as seen on another of Dr. Hess’ blogs.
Even worse, was the discovery in February by parents was a pedophilia ring on YouTube. Hackers embedded child porn in videos created and posted by kids and moms. Parents, it is up to us if we stumble on videos like these to immediately flag it and submit a report to YouTube.
What Can Parents Do?
Clearly YouTube Kids—and YouTube—are not always a safe place for children! Aside from keeping the pressure on YouTube, what else can be done? There are a few options:
- Set aside some scheduled time each week to watch together. If you see inappropriate clips or videos as described above, you should report and block them.
- Discuss with your kids what they should do when they view unsuitable material on YouTube—there’s no doubt they will. It’s also necessary to explain why these sites are not a good place to be spending their time.
- Block the YouTube Kids and YouTube website and app from their tablet, smartphone and any other devices they own.
- Allow your kids to watch YouTube Kids or YouTube only in an open area of your home—like the living room or kitchen—where you can see what they’re watching.
- Using a trustworthy parental control, you can now filter out the worst of YouTube making your children’s browsing experience safer.
Netsanity’s filters for example also works on YouTube’s comment sections as well. This single toggle may look simple, but the technology behind it is extremely powerful.
If you decide that your children are not old enough for YouTube or YouTube kids you can simply block the app and show them that while YouTube may be the most popular and biggest site, they aren’t the only one out there. There are plenty of streaming video apps that offer a variety of video sources, tighter curating, firmer parental controls and many handy, family-friendly attributes. With one of these better streaming apps, you and your child probably won’t even miss YouTube and YouTube Kids.