A vast landscape of online video provides many opportunities for entertainment and learning, but some content can also be disturbing or dangerous to children.
Recent news about parental concerns over the “Momo Challenge” — a hoax involving allegedly hacked YouTube videos that showed the scary face of a female sculpture who encourages kids to harm themselves or others — has brought the topic into wider conversation.
Although YouTube denies hosting any such footage and no Momo Challenge injuries have been confirmed to date, the frenzy still offers a reminder for families to closely monitor what their kids are watching.
Plenty of other kid-centric fare may feature bad or risky behavior, overstimulating graphics, inappropriate scenes involving popular cartoon characters or simply lack educational value.
What can you do?
Most families are unlikely to go screen-free, and there are simple ways to cut out unsavory content. Use these tips to make YouTube time safer.
- Watch videos together: A tablet or smartphone can be a diversion — and a welcome respite for busy parents. But children ages 18 to 24 months shouldn’t use digital media unsupervised, the American Academy of Pediatrics says. It also advises limiting screen time to just one hour daily for ages 2 to 5. Working nearby? Eliminate headphones to hear what videos are being enjoyed.
- Set up safeguards: They’re not foolproof but YouTube’s parental controls help filter out flagged content. Log into your Google account and click your profile icon at the upper right corner on the YouTube homepage. Then, turn on ‘Restricted Mode’ at the bottom of a drop-down menu. Close and reopen your browser to trigger the block; repeat the process on other devices.
- Turn off YouTube autoplay: The feature uses algorithms to cue up popular or related content, so there’s no way to know what’s next. A child watching train videos, for instance, might be exposed to footage of train accidents. Switch off the autoplay tab at the upper right corner of the screen when video is playing — or click the gear icon at the bottom right of a video itself.
- Flag questionable content: If your child does see a frightening or offensive video without your knowledge, make it clear that it’s OK to tell you. YouTube users can flag a post to be reviewed by site staff for removal. Then, block the channel from reappearing (click the channel name, then click ‘About’ followed by a flag icon to get a drop-down menu with a ‘Block user’ option).
- Allow approved videos only: Some families may wish to take further restrictions. In 2018, YouTube Kids launched a feature that lets adults handpick videos and channels. Open a child’s YouTube Kids profile and select “approved content only.” Then, add videos or channels by clicking “+” on each one. Parents may also opt to disable the YouTube search function.
- Use other streaming apps for kids: Beyond safety issues, many other kid-targeted YouTube videos have been criticized by educational groups for mindless, low-budget or hyperactive content. Consider other apps to source time-tested programs you know and love: Nick Jr., Noggin and PBS Kids, among other networks, provide on-demand streaming of their shows.
With proper guidance and safeguards, watching online video can be a safe and educational activity. Be sure the activity is a shared one and doesn’t interfere with unplugged quality time.
For more information about healthy screen time, check out these resources.