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Is YouTube actually safe for kids in 2021?

Exploring the dangers of YouTube for kids and how you can protect your kid and provide them a safer user experience on YouTube. What improvements is YouTube making in this scenario?

Updated: October 13, 2021 By Hamna Imran

Is YouTube actually safe for kids in 2021?

Image source – Shutterstock

Not every YouTube video contains the content shown on the thumbnail, not even on YouTube Kids.

A child psychotherapist in Arizona, Natasha Daniels, agrees that YouTube is now a problem among children under 13, being an ongoing conversation in her therapy practice for quite a long now.

A majority of mental health experts are now warning about the dark side of YouTube and its impact on children, with fear-inducing videos hindering brain development along with anxiety, crying fits, and inappropriate sexual behavior, to name a few.

But don't worry, we have great tips for you to save your kid from any of such impacts of YouTube.

The table below shows a survey's statistics conducted in March 2020 regarding kids' YouTube content


 
Keep them entertained
%
Help them learn new things
%
Expose them to different cultures
%
Total
97
88
75
Daily
99
91
81
Few times a week
96
87
73
Every few weeks
97
82
57
Less often
76
70
53

Why is YouTube inappropriate for kids?

Our familiarity with the "Baby Shark" soundtrack depicts the popularity of YouTube among kids.

YouTube usage by children 11 or under

Child safety issues with YouTube are a hot topic circulating on social media, with the platform now launched in more than 91 countries.

Are you a parent handing over smartphones to your kids so they stay busy watching videos on YouTube? Your kid might love watching the videos you play for them on YouTube, but have you ever gone through the "suggested" videos, which might often be quite deceiving by their description or thumbnails.

Dr. Volpitta has seen an alarming rise in cases of children suffering from anxiety triggered by videos they have watched on YouTube. These children exhibit bulimia, insomnia, violent behavior, addiction, crying fits, and fear.

fear-inducing videos cause the brain to receive a small amount of dopamine,

she said.

Some of the factors that make YouTube inappropriate for kids may be:

  • Videos with kids' favorite characters like Spiderman or cartoon graphics on thumbnails may become disturbing as they progress.
  • Intentionally created disturbing content targeted at kids by fooling algorithms using SEO.
  • Problematic advertisements
  • Cybercriminals

Cocomelon, an all-time favorite YouTube channel for kids, is the third most subscribed channel with 117 million subscribers!

This makes it extremely difficult for parents to maintain a user-friendly experience for their kids.

But Hold on, we've got you covered!

How to protect kids from inappropriate YouTube content?

With more than 500 hours of video uploaded every 60 seconds and over 2.3 billion monthly users, it might seem quite impossible to keep your kid away from the negative impacts of YouTube.

Here are a few measures you can take to make YouTube safe for your child.

Restricted mode

An easier way to avoid inappropriate content on YouTube is to activate Restricted Mode. It automatically filters out adult content. This is better suited for pre-teens and teens. These filters analyze the metadata and title of the video along with the language used in it.

This is how you can turn on the Restricted Mode

Steps to activate YouTube's Restricted Mode

Image source – youtube.com

Also, content flagged by other users doesn't pop up on restricted mode.

This may seem enough, but there are a couple of issues with the restricted mode. While it filters out tons of content, it is still not completely safe for kids with over 720,000 hours of video uploaded daily.

It's quite like filtering the Mississippi river with a colander.

Parents regarding YouTube content

The automatic filters fail to recognize videos with disturbing content having misleading tags and, obviously, some not-so-appropriate advertisements.

Another major problem is that these filters are not customizable. This makes it unable to filter religious, political, or even manipulative content.

YouTube kids

Due to the dissatisfaction caused among parents regarding Restricted Mode, YouTube introduced a separate app for kids, YouTube Kids.

YouTube Kids

Image source – youtubekids.com

YouTube Kids is exclusively tailored for pre-school and early elementary-age kids with whimsical visuals, attracting sound effects and an easy-to-navigate environment, having over 1 million users. By making an account, parents can choose the age group of their children, i.e., under-4 year-olds, 5-7 year-olds, and 8-12 year-olds, depending on which age-appropriate videos are recommended—this aids in avoiding inappropriate content.

Age selection in YouTube Kids

Image source – youtubekids.com

Parents can also create playlists for their kids containing approved videos.

Our automated systems select content from the broader universe of videos on YouTube. We work hard to exclude content that's not suitable for kids, but we can't manually review all videos, and no automated system is perfect.

Dozens of researches show 27% of the videos viewed by 8 year-olds or younger are actually intended for an older target audience.

Can you change settings in YouTube Kids? Yes!

  • Open Family Link on your device
  • Settings > Manage Settings > More > YouTube Kids
  • In "YouTube Kids Settings," you can edit content level, turn off search or block videos of an account

Content that manages to get past YouTube Kids' filter may include political rants recorded over famous games, suicide, or even cruel pranks causing physical or emotional harm to kids.

A child gets chased in a playground by giant spiders while the "Itsy Bitsy Spider" nursery rhyme song plays

Image source – youtubekids.com

Some videos often start normally but become extremely disturbing as they progress. For instance, the video below appears just like any other episode of the famous show Paw Patrol but turns into a scary nightmare as it goes. The ghost ties up a character, Marshal, from her hair as he keeps screaming for help.

A disturbing video in the 'Up Next' section

Image source – youtubekids.com

While there are similar problems with the Restricted Mode of YouTube kids, it's safer than YouTube, with dozens of human moderators keeping an eye on the content uploaded.

Another way to limit your kids' view is to search in YouTube Kids and the "timer" feature, limiting the usage.

The Watch It Again feature also helps kids replay playlists and aids parents in tracking their kid's activity.

YouTube Premium users, when logging into YouTube Kids get a safer experience with

  • Ad-free viewing
  • Free video downloads
  • Videos playing in the background

But is YouTube Kids safer than any other site or app targeted at kids?

According to the app store, YouTube Kids is appropriate for 4-year-olds, but researchers recommend that kids be seven or older.

Security tools and Parental Control

Windows 10 users can make a child account that provides a weekly report to parents.

Apple's Family Sharing can be used by Mac or iOS users to track screen time and limitations on apps and share subscriptions and iCloud with family members. Limiting screen time on the device and enabling content restrictions would also help avoid other 17+ apps or websites.

Apple's Family Sharing feature

Image source – www.apple.com

Android users can set up Family Link that notifies parents whenever something is downloaded or purchased, along with location tracking and screen time or even app limitations.

In addition, Kaspersky's parental controls can monitor and filter YouTube usage both on the site and on the Android app.

These parental control and network monitoring tools depend on the operating system's built-in web protections and antivirus scanning to keep kids safe.

You may also use Google SafeSearch to filter inappropriate results.

We highly recommend parents to use antivirus software (Norton 360 can be helpful) as cybercriminals are often seen targeting innocent children for their phishing and malware attacks through advertisements and spoofed accounts.

Are there any alternatives?

YouTube surely is the biggest fish in the sea, but it isn't the only one. Various alternatives are available on the internet. Some of them are

  • SchoolTube-great alternative for 'real' videos on YouTube
  • Cakey Village-only has approved videos in collections by parents using the app
  • PBS Kids-perfect for kids belonging to the 2-6 age group

    Nick-A famous platform for kid-friendly shows

  • Nick and Nick Jr-has majority of popular shows for kids
  • Amazon Prime Videos-has a whole category of kid-friendly videos
  • Disney XD Appisodes-unlimited episodes of shows only made for children
  • Storyline Online-kids can read their favorite books along with characters to celebrities
  • Epic has digital audiobooks for kids under 13
  • Highlights for Kids-online magazines for kids

    Jellies, a YouTube Kids alternative

    Image source – reddit.com

How to create a safer user experience for kids on YouTube?

You can't rely on a single net to catch all the fish in the ocean!

Just 5 minutes into the Restricted Mode and a parent begin finding

  • speeches by politicians
  • cannabis cooking show
  • the brutal fight in Colombia
  • Spiderman drowning Elsa
  • Minecraft characters shooting each other
  • Peppa Pig committing suicide

And whatnot.

Depending on YouTube filters is definitely not a good idea.

You might be horrified to read this but guess what? There are multiple ways to keep your kid's YouTube experience as safe as possible in 2021.

Open communication

According to a survey in 2020, YouTube Kids is the most used app by kids-spending 70 minutes each day in the US. Therefore it is crucial to ensure a protected user experience for kids.

As they say,

Communication is the key.

Child psychologists agree that it is extremely important for parents to talk about YouTube content with kids.

Parents must keep lines of communication open with kids to share their feelings about the online content they see comfortably. Keeping their disturbing experiences to themselves often gets them into long-term trouble.

The safest way is to watch videos along with your kids. Suppose you're a busy parent, ask them to keep the sound loud enough for you to hear it. Furthermore, you can use the "Watch It Again" feature to monitor your kid's activity.

Many kids don't get the point of parents checking on their YouTube activity, and they may disagree. Consistent and open communication helps kids understand their parent's concerns and develops a mutual understanding among the kid and the parent.

Communicating with children

Image source – mother.ly

Educating your kid about internet safety is extremely important. Kids must know about

  • How advertisements can be exaggerated
  • Downloading unnecessary files may result in malware
  • Predators having fake identities

Surprisingly, 95% of the early childhood videos on YouTube include ads. These may be

  • Banner ads- blocking educational content
  • Sidebar ads-may be confused for recommended videos
  • Video game ads-showing doctored versions of popular characters.

Kids may get manipulated by these advertisements or even by some content in the videos on YouTube. They need to understand that no family unboxes toys every day, or a certain snack will not make them taller or stronger.

Furthermore, they must not interact with strangers on internet platforms and immediately report it to their parents if any such incident happens.

Besides, parents should listen to their kid's problems and suggest a reasonable solution instead of scolding them.

Content contract

Work with your child to form a 'contract' containing rules regarding usage of the internet and content approved by parents, which must include

  • App limitation
  • Device usage schedule
  • Blocking specific sites
  • Setting permissions

You may include suitable punishments in the contract, too, just in case rules are broken. Don't forget to implement them from time to time so that your kid keeps following the rules.

Limit of screen exposure according to age groups

According to World Health Organization (WHO), children under five years of age must not use digital devices for more than 1 hour, while children under one year should not be exposed to screens daily.

You can also subscribe to the channels whose content you approve. This creates a safer feed for your child and a lesser chance of encountering inappropriate content.

Subscription tab in YouTube

Report/Flag content

Teaching your kid to flag any disturbing content might be helpful. This would give them a sense of right and wrong, even on the internet. Reporting any inappropriate content helps in avoiding any similar content in the future.

In addition, reported content doesn't appear on Restricted Mode, which is useful for the person reporting the content and others trying to avoid similar content.

Here is how you can report a video on YouTube.

By tapping the three dots in the top right corner of any video, you can choose to block, hide or report specific videos

To report or block a channel:

  • Visit that channel
  • Tap 3 dots in the top-right corner
  • Report/Block

How to report/block a channel

YouTube's policy     

You must be thinking, "What is YouTube doing in this scenario?"

YouTube offers a clear warning that kids may come across something you may not want them to see, and you can always block or report the video or channel. The app is now trying to minimize such incidents by all means.

YouTube's Guidelines

YouTube is constantly toughening its approach regarding its policies to provide a safer experience. The app's partnership with content providers like PBS and Kidzbop further reduces such risks.

After numerous concerns regarding inappropriate content for children surfaced, Google instituted human moderators in addition to existing filters who monitor flagged content and proactively look for disturbing videos.

Since January 2020, YouTube has deliberately analyzed content targeted at children, especially those under 13 years. This update may disable a few features like

  • Advertisements
  • Comments
  • Channel notifications
  • Playlists
  • Watch-later tools

Besides, YouTube is using Artificial Intelligence algorithms to ensure whether the videos are correctly labeled.

A small channel producing educational videos, Socratica Kids, announced to cease its operations in November as it may lose 95% of its ad income under new YouTube rules.

Another update won't let kids comment without their parent's consent.

YouTube doesn't allow content that endangers the emotional and physical well-being of minors.

According to its website, the YouTube staff "carefully reviews flagged content 24 hours a day, and 7 days a week to determine whether there's a violation of our Community Guidelines."

A minor is under the legal age, usually under 18, in most countries or regions.

If any creator violates YouTube's policy, an email is sent to them along with removing their inappropriate content. If it's broken more than once, the creator may face penalties in accordance with the violation.

If the creator gets three warnings within 90 days, their channel might be terminated.

The reason for termination of someone's YouTube channel maybe

  • Violation of Community Guidelines
  • Violation of Terms of Service
  • Severe abuse
  • Policy violation

So far, YouTube has terminated over 50 channels and thousands of videos from its platform.

Additionally, some guidelines suggested by parents are:

  • "I will discuss anything confusing or disturbing with my parents."
  • "I will limit my usage to these many hours a week."

"My parents can look at the content I'm viewing and block channels if they deem them unsafe or harmful."

Infographic

The following infographic includes a recent case study regarding YouTube usage by children; the restricted content Mode may fail to filter, warning, and some important YouTube statistics.

Infographic about youtube safe for kids in 2021

Feel free to share the code of infographics

<iframe width="574" height="2597" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="overflow-y:hidden;" src="/sites/default/files/pictures/security/youtube-actually-safe-for-kids/youtube-actually-safe-for-kids-17.png"></iframe>

Conclusion

Every day predators are looking for new ways to execute their plans which often include children as it is easier to use them to access greater systems.

With all its engaging content, YouTube is a means of entertainment, which means Elsa shouldn't be drowning, or Spiderman must not be crushing anyone under a car.

No matter how much secure YouTube may seem to you, it needs to be limited and monitored.

With schools shutting down in 2020 due to pandemics and continuous remote schooling in 2021, the process of parenting and educating kids is becoming trickier. It is crucial to snake through the rabbit hole of YouTube no matter how protected you consider it.  

Stay tuned for more valuable content!

Tags: 
Security
Author
Hamna Imran
Cyber Security student and keen learner, writing articles for several other websites.

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