I don’t like the term “dangerous apps.” Apps are not inherently dangerous. What I like to focus on is the behaviors on the apps and how we can teach responsible behaviors on any digital platform. YouTube can be a great place to learn how to do something such as changing the oil in your car or building a treehouse, but there many other things on YouTube that you most likely want to protect your child from viewing.
I’d recommend the YouTube Kids app for kids up to age 5 or 6. YouTube Kids has some good features. Here are instructions on how to set the parental controls.
For older kids using the regular YouTube app or channel you will want to turn on the Restricted Mode. This will help catch inappropriate content and filter it out. No filter can catch everything so be aware of that. Here is a link to help you to turn on the Restricted Mode.
You must be signed into an account to view the “Age-Restricted” content. There is no way to verify age, you simply click on a warning that the content “may be inappropriate for some users.” A curious youth entering the world of puberty may turn to YouTube to learn more about their changing bodies and the bodies of the opposite sex. For an inquisitive child, a simple search of “nude woman” takes you to “Age-Restricted Videos.” A woman doing nude yoga and nude art are top results. You can also watch “Naked News” as well. These are news reporters reporting the news naked. A “nude man” search gives you “Age-Restricted Videos” with “male nude art classes” and “male nudity.” Searching specific male or female sexual body parts will give you medical procedures, anatomy lessons and videos of piercing procedures. These do not violate YouTube’s terms on sexualized content. Here is a link to read more about the policy on nudity.
There are videos of individuals discussing their mental health struggles such as depression, anxiety, self-injury, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts or attempts. As of this writing, most of these are designed to be inspirational and encouraging others to get help. Discuss help seeking strategies with your youth, such as what do to if they would see someone posting about eating disorders, mental health issues, depression, self-harm or suicide.
A quick search of “how-to smoke weed” gets results on how to smoke weed in your room and not get caught. “Hotbox” and “dabbing” will also get drug related “how-tos.” Kids are curious. When they start to hear about drugs, they are going to want information. It’s better for you as the parent to have prevention discussions before they are exposed to drug content from friends or through the internet. Teach them to use the reporting functions built into YouTube and to keep an open line of communication with you as the parent. Teach them how to report videos with inappropriate content. Here is a how-to on reporting inappropriate content.
Be aware various ways to access YouTube. YouTube can be access through an app on a device, the web browser on a device, smart blu-ray players, smart TVs, video games and other connected devices. Here is an example of how YouTube can be accessed through the Nintendo Switch. It may be more difficult to control for content via one of these non-traditional ways to connect to YouTube.
YouTube Safety Tips:
My #1 recommendation: If you are going to let your child use YouTube, you should know how to work all of its functions first. Use some of the searches suggested above to see what’s available on YouTube and then learn how to best restrict that content. Do all of this before your child begins using YouTube. If they have already been using YouTube, no fear. Just follow the same advice and get more knowledge about YouTube. Ask general questions about what they like to watch and how they access YouTube. Watch YouTube with your child(ren). When something questionable then is viewed, you can have a conversation about it.
Here is a personal example: My kids were watching a very popular YouTube video that featured a brother and sister. They kids are in the preteen age. Their video views are in the millions. In one video, the brother and sister gave the audience a tour of their house. They showed the audience where they kept everything in their bedrooms, the bathrooms, the kitchen and other rooms in the house. They showed the audience where they kept their computers and electronic equipment in a cabinet in the living room. I stopped the video and told my kids that if I found the YouTuber’s address online, could I go to their house and take all of their stuff because they just showed millions of people where it was. My kids easily were able to identify that this video, while fun for them to watch, was not a very wise thing to publish.
Here are some other suggestions:
- It’s difficult to login to YouTube without being connected to a Google account which could identify your child if they have one. Our kids use the service without logging in. If your child is going to use the service logged in, here is a way to help with privacy.
- If they are uploading videos, you have the ability to set your videos to Public, Private or Unlisted. Upload them as Private. This way only people that the uploader has given permission to can see the video and the link to the video will not be sharable (from my research).
- If they are uploading videos, remind them to not post personal information such as drivers license, school IDs, state IDs, phone numbers, birth certificates, school schedules and other identifying information. They should not discuss where they live, their full names, schools they go to or places they frequent.
- Turn off location services when uploading videos.
- Know the password to the youth’s account and check the search history regularly.
- Subscribe to their account. You can then be notified of when they post something new and you will be able to see what videos they “like” and are commenting on.
- Report any cyberbulling or trolling behaviors. Here is some more information on what a troll is.
- Use the reporting system when they see inappropriate content. Here is how to report content.
- Remind them to talk to a parent if they see a concerning video (mental health, drugs, language, inappropriate content).
- Watch the kind of content they view. There are lots of videos of people misbehaving. There are some good role models on YouTube. Here is a list of a few.
- Even though a video is Unlisted or Private, privacy isn’t guaranteed. Once a video is shared, there is potential for it to be out of the user’s control. A digital reputation begins the moment a video is posted. What they post now could affect them later in life.
- Stick with the age restrictions. The age restriction is 17 for the app. While this seems a bit extreme, the App Store rates it at 17 for these reasons:
- Frequent/Intense Mature/Suggestive Themes
- Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References
- Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content and Nudity
- Infrequent/Mild Simulated Gambling
- Infrequent/Mild Cartoon or Fantasy Violence
- Infrequent/Mild Horror/Fear Themes
- Infrequent/Mild Realistic Violence
- Infrequent/Mild Profanity or Crude Humor
Access to this content is much more controllable on a smart TV in your house or a tablet they are watching in the same room with you than it is on a phone when they are out of the house. I would not suggest having younger kids have the app on their phone.