Netflix and other streaming services are great, but sometimes they don’t have the latest seasons and episodes of our kids’ favourite shows, so at times I find myself turning to the often untamed video wilderness of YouTube.
Don’t get me wrong, YouTube is awesome. It’s a great resource and an even greater way to get a few things done while my daughter watches, but it requires a higher level of supervision. My kid can find pretty much anything she wants on YouTube, from the latest toy unboxing videos to, well, whatever. But it’s the “whatever” part that’s scary, isn’t it? And as much as I try to keep a close eye on what my kid is watching, it’s frustrating when I’m making dinner in the kitchen and those adorable yelps of Chase and Zuma abruptly transition into the guttural vocals of a Norwegian black metal band.
So what can a parent do to prevent kids from watching stuff they shouldn’t? Hover over them while they watch? Ban YouTube altogether? While there’s no foolproof way to shelter kids from the inevitable inappropriate video on YouTube, here are a few tips, tricks and suggestions for watching safely.
1. Use YouTube Kids
This fantastic service from Google, which launched in late 2015, is best for kids ages two to eight, so while older ones may not be interested in its filtered and curated content (think Nat Geo and Treehouse Direct), this should be your first choice for the young’uns. The free app for Android and iOS devices offers a simplified experience and a range of parental controls, including the ability to disable the search function and filter out keywords and a timeout feature to limit session length, so you can feel confident in letting your little ones browse unattended. If something unsavoury does make it past the filters, there’s a simple reporting function to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Sadly, YouTube Kids isn’t available for desktop or laptop computers—it’s only an app.
2. Turn on Restricted Mode
You can activate YouTube’s Restricted Mode, which is, more or less, the site’s parental control to filter out “potentially objectionable content.” Simply scroll to the bottom of the YouTube page and turn it on via the drop-down menu. On mobile devices, access your account settings and turn on Restricted Mode Filtering.
3. Limit the use of headphones
When kids wear headphones, you can’t overhear what they’re watching and react if you hear swearing, violence or something else equally unacceptable. Leave the headphones in the drawer and stay within earshot to monitor anything out of bounds. Added bonus: While a lot of kids’ headphones have volume limiters built in, many do not. If your little rocker likes the volume at 11, viewing sans headphones is a win-win.
4. Create separate YouTube channels for your kids
Consider creating a separate channel off your own YouTube account for your kids that they can switch to easily before they start viewing. When you’re logged on to your YouTube/Google account and on the YouTube homepage, access your YouTube settings. Under Additional Features at the bottom, select See All My Channels or Create a New Channel. Once created, you’ll be able to access it by clicking your profile picture in the top right corner and selecting your kid’s new channel. Before you hand it over, though, you’ll need to go in, clean up the default content and curate to suit your preferences. Go through and delete the categories you don’t want, block out specific channels completely or set up subscriptions to channels you trust. Once done, you can simply teach your child to stick to the subscriptions and categories you’ve set up. Keep in mind that it takes some work to keep on top of it, though. Be sure to check your kid’s history often and filter out anything you don’t want him to see. Your kids’ channels can also be accessed via mobile apps as well. Check out this handy video tutorial here.
5. Watch together
The very best way to ensure that your kids aren’t stumbling onto inappropriate content is to watch with them. Snuggle up when they’re on your tablet and check out what they’re watching. Or why not watch together on a big TV? Smart TVs, game consoles and set-top boxes, such as Roku and Apple TV, have YouTube preinstalled, and the video service can also be streamed right from your smartphone or tablet through Apple TV or with a Chromecast dongle connected to your TV. While playing a YouTube video on your device, just look for the Chromecast or Apple TV icons and tap it to send it to the TV.