YouTube is an incredible platform where you can find content on just about anything and everything under the sun. It’s also a slippery rabbit hole. One minute you’re watching flan recipes, and next thing you know, it’s recommending videos on the flat-Earth conspiracy.
As parents, we don’t want our kids exposed to such misinformation, not to mention the inappropriate and borderline traumatic content that can also be found on YouTube. Even seemingly innocent vlogs sometimes feature themes and behavior that are not suitable for the eyes of children.
That being said, YouTube remains one of the most popular video content platforms among our youth. According to recent data, YouTube ranks third as the most-watched online platform by kids, next only to Netflix and Disney Plus.1 If your kid is one of those who watches YouTube on a regular basis, here are a few tricks and tips to help you keep your child safe online.
Have You Heard of YouTube Kids?
In case you didn’t know, YouTube came out with a kid-safe app in 2015 where only videos rated for kids are shown. The YouTube Kids app uses algorithms and more recently, human moderation, to handpick videos that are suitable for younger viewers.
Granted, it’s not perfect. There have been some reports of inappropriate videos slipping through YouTube Kids’ filters. For example, a parent reportedly caught her child watching a Paw Patrol copycat that depicted a suicide scene in 2017.2
Still, YouTube Kids weeds out most of the videos not suitable for your youngster. If you set up YouTube Kids parental controls, keeping your child safe is much easier and more plausible than giving them access to the original YouTube app.
Did You Know? With the YouTube Kids app, you can opt to show your youngster videos only from channels you approve. You can set this up when creating your child’s profile by selecting Approve Content Yourself.
Restricted Mode: An Easy Way to Keep YouTube Kid-Friendly
YouTube Kids will do just fine for most younger kids, but for older kids and teenagers, it just won’t cut it. If you have a youngster with a love for pop music, for example, the available content on YouTube Kids is much more limited compared to the YouTube app. So how do you ensure their safety on the app?
Simply turn on Restricted Mode, which filters out inappropriate and mature content.
To do that:
- Open the YouTube app on the device they use to watch.
- Go to Settings.
- Select General.
- Scroll down to Restricted Mode and toggle it on.
FYI: Depending on the device, the Restricted Mode may also be found in the Account section of the settings section. Turning on Restricted Mode only filters the content on that specific device. If your child is using multiple devices to watch YouTube (i.e., laptop, TV, and smartphone), you’ll have to turn on Restricted Mode on all of them.
What exactly does the Restricted Mode do? It screens out potentially mature content by checking the title, description, metadata, Community Guidelines reviews, age restrictions, and other markers.
Algorithms take care of all those, so even though it has proven itself quite effective, the Restricted Mode is not always accurate. That means for us parents, supervision is still highly advised.
One last thing to note about Restricted Mode is that it hides the comment section for all videos. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is. YouTube’s comment section can be quite a cesspool of hateful comments and cyberbullying. Some also post links that lead to adult websites, phishing sites, or fake websites that contain malware. Although these are considered spam behavior, YouTube can’t remove them all, so it’s safer to just turn off the comment section all at once.
Parent Settings: YouTube’s Built-In Parental Control
Aside from turning on the Restricted Mode, you can use YouTube’s built-in Parent Settings to create a safer environment for your youngster. This feature is especially crucial if your child has their own device, but first, a supervised Google account is necessary.
More To Read: Not sure if your child is ready for a smartphone? Read this checklist of things to know before buying your child a smartphone. And if and when they’re ready, check out our guide to picking the safest phones for children.
To get started, you’ll need the Google Family Link app. This app is Android’s parental control software, where you can create a supervised Google account for kids under your care and manage how they use their Android devices and Google services.
Follow these steps on your device to set up your child’s supervised Google account:
- Launch the Family Link app.
- Tap the menu icon at the top-left corner of the screen.
- Select Add Child.
- Follow the on-screen instructions.
Once their supervised account is ready, you’ll have to make sure that it is logged in on their device. If it’s an Android, setting up the device with the account automatically links it to the YouTube app as well. On iOS and other systems, you’ll have to open the YouTube app and log in manually.
From there, you’ll be able to set up parental controls using your own smartphone or laptop. Just go to YouTube’s settings and look for Parent Settings.
To start with, you’ll select a content setting for your child’s account. The options are: Explore, which generally aligns with content ratings for viewers aged nine and beyond; Explore More, which is for teenagers; and Most of YouTube for more mature youngsters. The content setting you’ll select will take effect across all the devices and browsers where your child’s Google account is signed in.
Aside from filtering content, you can also block and unblock videos or channels, view your child’s viewing history, and play around with a few other settings. In fact, the next tip we’ll share with you has to do with these settings.
Watch History and Search History: Why You Should Turn Them Off
Remember how we called YouTube a “slippery rabbit hole” at the start of this guide? That has to do with its Video Recommendations.
Two things primarily affect these recommendations: your watch history and search history.
Here’s a scenario: Last night, you typed “Europe family travel” into YouTube’s search bar, as you’re interested in going to Europe with your family for vacation. Then, you watched a couple of family travel vlogs. Based on your search and watch history, YouTube’s algorithm will conclude that you’re into traveling with your family. This means the next time you open the app, family travel vlogs will appear on the Recommended Videos section.
Now, try typing just “Europe” into the search bar. Normally, it would show you videos about Europe, the continent or Europe, the ‘80s band. But because you’ve previously searched and watched vlogs about traveling to Europe with family, YouTube will pepper the search results with videos related to that. They may not be the top results, but they’ll be there.
These recommendations are useful, of course, but for children and teens who are naturally curious and explorative, they can be dangerous.
Imagine if your child is just watching science-related videos to help with their homework and they stumble upon a conspiracy theory video. They click on it out of curiosity (and because of the clickbait title), and before you know it, their Recommended Videos are full of conspiracy posts spreading misinformation.
No parent wants that, which is why we recommend turning off watch and search history. By doing so, what your youngster searches and watches on YouTube will not affect the video recommendations, thus preventing them from going further down a rabbit hole. Instead, YouTube refreshes every time they open it, recommending only videos that are within the content setting you’ve set.
To turn off the watch and search history, go back to Parent Settings, select your child’s profile, and scroll down to Pause Watch History and Pause Search History. Toggle both settings on.
Autoplay is another feature you should consider turning off. Once a video finishes playing, it automatically loads a related video and then plays it. Unfortunately, YouTube’s algorithm for choosing what to play next isn’t always on point, and it can be swayed by the watch histories of other users who searched for similar content.
For your child’s safety, turn off autoplay and let them click on the video they want to watch next instead of letting YouTube’s imperfect algorithm decide.
Conclusion: Is YouTube Safe for Kids?
YouTube is the largest online video sharing platform, which means inevitably, many of the videos on it are not advisable or appropriate for younger viewers.
On the bright side, YouTube has given parents useful tools and parental controls so we can monitor and filter what our kids watch. YouTube Kids is a useful one for younger kids, but even the YouTube app itself has safety features for older kids and teenagers. It takes a lot of work and constant supervision on our part, but it’s possible to make YouTube more child-friendly.
FAQs on YouTube Child Safety
Does YouTube allow nudity and sexual content?
YouTube’s Community Guidelines prohibits the posting of videos that contain nudity or near nudity in a way that gratifies sex, including pornography in any way. That said, videos that show exposed body parts are allowed as long as they are not sexually gratifying.
Is it safe to allow my kids to create a YouTube channel and post content?
There are many successful child YouTubers, but the decision of whether it’s safe to do so falls under your discretion. There are things to consider, such as what type of content will be featured, who will manage their account, and what rules or limitations should you impose internally.
If you do decide to let your kid create a YouTube channel, it’s most ideal to monitor and manage the channel yourself. It’s also best to screen the videos before posting, and to turn off the comment section to shield your child from cyberbullying.
Are there sexual predators on YouTube?
Sadly, yes. In 2019, YouTube turned off the comment sections of videos posted by younger users, mostly female, because users were flocking to their videos and commenting on their bodies. Some of the comments have gone as far as coercing child YouTubers to do dance challenges that are inappropriate for children.
What is a supervised Google account?
A supervised Google account is an account that parents can set up for their children under 13 years old. It is linked to the parent’s own Google account, and restrictions can be set up specifically for YouTube and other Google services.
Is it possible to bypass content restrictions and filters by opening YouTube in Incognito mode?
Unfortunately, yes. If you open YouTube in Incognito mode, it will open as “signed out” from any Google account. Fortunately, that means the watch and search history will be cleared as soon as you close the browser. Thus, trying to watch mature content on YouTube will require you to sign in. Sadly, other types of content that you may have set to be blocked, like songs with explicit lyrics, will still play.
YPulse. (2022). The Top Platforms Kids Are Watching Weekly, According to Millennial Parents.
The New York Times. (2017). On YouTube Kids, Startling Videos Slip Past Filters.