YouTube is like the wild west for kids. Your child can search for something as innocent as “Superman” and suddenly they’re watching a superhero getting pooped on. Technically YouTube isn’t for kids. Their terms of service clearly state that if you’re under 13, you shouldn’t be there:
“If you are under 13 years of age, then please do not use the Service. There are lots of other great web sites for you. Talk to your parents about what sites are appropriate for you.”
So YouTube has covered its own butt, and kids are still using the service. What to do?
First, there’s the official YouTube Kids app. Available for both Android and iPhone, the app gives kids access to a filtered selection of YouTube videos, along with parental controls. There are three ways for kids to access videos on the app: through search, through recommended videos based on what they’ve already watched, and through pre-selected videos.
The app is supposed to be free of anything inappropriate for kids, but there are a couple of issues. One, inappropriate videos have gotten through the filters. When that happens, YouTube would like you to report the video. According to YouTube, the pre-selected content goes through an addition layer of filtering, so if you want to be extra careful you can turn the search function off and the app will only display preselected content.
The second issue is that your idea of “appropriate” might not be YouTube’s idea of “appropriate.” The YouTube Kids app is highly commercial, with ads targeted to kids and entire channels dedicated to certain brands that appeal to kids. If you’re looking for a commercial-free experience for your child, YouTube Red subscribers can access that (and download videos to watch offline), but the toy channels will still be there.
Kideos is a website and iPhone app (opens in new tab) that has a highly-curated selection of YouTube videos for young children, as well as simple parental controls that allow you to limit the amount of time the app is used, and target a certain age group.
From the popular search site KidzSearch, KidzTube returns YouTube search results with the strictest Google filters in place. For example, my video search for the keyword “pooping” returned a collection of harmless (depending on your perspective, I guess) videos about things like a Minecraft character pooping out nails, an instructional video about your digestive system, a video about why bird poop is white, and other videos that seem to have nothing to do with pooping, but also look fairly innocuous. Note that many of the videos have ads.
Safe YouTube allows you to generate links to YouTube videos that will strip out all of the other stuff that appears on a normal YouTube page. You can also customize the link by turning sharing and downloading on or off or cropping the video to just show a certain part of it. This is a great tool for teachers who want to show videos to their students without all of the other distractions that appear on a YouTube page.
Please note, however, that if you share the link with someone, all they have to do is click on the video while it’s playing in order to get to the video’s YouTube page.
On a recent episode of the Parenting Bytes podcast we talk to reporter Jessica Contrera about both sides of YouTube for kids: the ones watching the videos, and the ones making the videos. Listen in to find out what it’s like for YouTube’s young stars!