We know the days of family members counting down the minutes sit down to watch a favorite show together are long gone. The ability to stream, record and view shows later, and access content on YouTube has forever changed the way we watch but as centrally placed televisions have been replaced with individual devices, do you really know what your kids are watching? In addition to monitoring what they’re watching, it’s important to have conversations about the YouTube content they’re seeing on their screens.
According to statistics from YouTube, over one billion hours of video are watched on their global platform every single day and it’s no surprise YouTube reaches more people in the United States than any television network. No wonder it seems like our kids are constantly watching YouTube because they probably are.
With a mission to “give everyone a voice and show them the world,” YouTube prides itself on diversity of content that over one billion users upload and watch daily. They believe “the world is a better place when we listen, share and build community through our stories.”
YouTube’s values are based on four essential freedoms that define who we are: freedom of expression, freedom of opportunity, freedom of information and the freedom to belong. We love the content that informs and entertains but with such an open platform that embodies the very freedoms that we hold dear, it’s not without controversy.
From the types of questionable content available through the free YouTube Kids app, Tide Pod challenge videos that have had dangerous consequences, and the repeated lack of judgement exhibited by Logan Paul, it’s become more important than ever to talk our kids about what they’re watching on YouTube.
While we want platforms that our kids are using to be using to be safe, taking time to have conversations about the content being watched. They need to know videos, and their creators, can be informational, entertaining, and highly influential.
We can use apps and parental controls while YouTube employs algorithms, detection software, and a human review team but none of these tools should ever be a replacement for conversations we need to be having with our kids about content. The truth is, anyone can create a YouTube video and while we know not to believe everything on the internet, we need to make sure our kids do too.
Here’s how to start a conversation with your kids about what they’re watching on YouTube so they can have the knowledge to make good judgements about the videos they’re seeing now but also apply it to other popular platforms and apps in the future.
Important Conversations to Have with Your Kids About YouTube Content They’re Watching
This set of guidelines is designed to create an open-ended conversation with your kids about YouTube. Ultimately you know your child best. There is never any right or wrong way to talk to your kids about the content they’re watching. The priority is working with your child to develop understanding about good and bad content, passive versus active screen time, and what to do if they happen to discover content that they know is not ok.
What Are You Watching and Who is That YouTube Content Creator?
Knowing what your kids are watching on YouTube opens the door to a conversation about their favorite creators, types of videos they’ve been viewing, and a better understanding of how much time they’re spending learning versus being entertained.
You can use watch history information available through the aforementioned parental control features but it’s better to sit down and ask them to show you. Once you do, here are some questions you can ask to create a dialogue about YouTube.
- What are you watching? Do they turn their device towards you and let you see or hide the screen? Regardless, let them know it’s ok and you just want to know more about what they’re watching on YouTube.
- What do you like about that video? This provides insight about whether they’re watching something for pure entertainment or to learn a new skill or hack because honestly, YouTube videos often crossover into both categories. As much as we may not like our kids watching videos of other kids playing video games, sometimes they’re picking up new hacks and knowledge to advance their game play. And remember the slime craze? That spread like wildfire thanks to the abundant YouTube how-to videos.
- How did you find that video? YouTube is a rabbit hole but what paths they’re taking differs. Sometimes kids type in a word to find a specific video, other times they click on videos that come up automatically, and often times one video leads to another to another to another thanks to the suggested videos that are listed on the right hand side. It’s worth it to talk about the different ways to find content so they can get to what they want to see faster.
- What’s your favorite channel? Does your child have a favorite channel do they jump around? This can help you determine if they use YouTube to hone in on a specific area of interest or if their interests are more varied. Use their love of a particular type of content to foster their interests in off-line activities. For example, a kid interested in slime videos might like to head to the craft store and help you purchase ingredients for a slime making session at home. Encourage your Minecraft obsessed child to read about their favorite game in addition to playing it. There are no shortage of Minecraft inspired books for kids these days! While kids may have certain interests now, be sure to check in with them periodically to stay up to date on their most current interests so you can suggest unplugged activities that are not only fun, but relevant.
- Who is your favorite content creator? It’s worth taking some time to investigate who your child loves to watch the most by clicking through to their channel to learn more about them or by doing a Google search. Sometimes kids will stick to one content creator, watching and re-watching all of their videos on the channel. Get to know a bit more about who they are and if they serve as a positive role model through the content they post to their channel. One good way to get to know popular channels is through this new YouTube guide from Common Sense Media. Scroll through to get a sense if the channel is age appropriate and click through to the full review for a deeper dive.
- Have you seen other videos by this content creator? While kids may watch videos from a handful of favorite creators, the list of suggested videos can lead them down a rabbit hole of content. Asking them if they’ve seen other videos by the content creator they’re watching will let you know how they found it. If they didn’t find it through the suggested videos, ask them what search terms they used to find it. It’s worth having a conversation about responsible and smart online search strategies.
- Can you show me some of your other favorite videos? Take a deep breath because while you might not love what your child is watching, this helps you know more about the content they’re watching. You might have a teachable moment about something you watch together and later, you can use this to have a conversation about passive versus active screen time and content that is good and bad. Keep reading for tips!
Don’t feel like you have to ask these questions in one sitting! Ask one or two from time to time, rotating what you ask your child from time to time to better understand what they’re watching and to keep an eye on hot YouTube trends in their age group.
Is What You’re Watching Active or Passive Screen Time?
It’s easy to jump down our kids’ throats when they’ve been on their devices for long periods of time but it’s also important to understand the difference between active and passive screen time because it’s highly likely that the time they’ve spent on YouTube is both. Here’s a run down on both:
- Active screen time = learning, engaging, and creating using technology as a tool. Examples include researching a topic for homework, looking up a how-to video to learn a new skill, using editing software to create a video, modifying a CAD file to 3D print an object, etc.
- Passive screen time = watching for entertainment value. The jury is out on those gaming videos that kids love to watch of other kids playing and commenting on video games. Kids might claim that this is active screen time because they’re learning new skills to help their game play but at the end of the day, flex that parental muscle to make the call on if it’s active or passive.
Developing family guidelines about the kinds of content that are considered active and passive will help your kids be more conscious of how they’re spending their screen time.
Is That YouTube Content Age Appropriate for You?
YouTube is a popular way for our kids to consume content but it’s important for kids to have a firm grasp what content is appropriate in order to be conscientious consumers. YouTube’s Community Guideline policies do not permit the following:
- Nudes or sexual content
- Harmful or dangerous content
- Incitement to hate content
- Violent or graphic content
- Harassment or cyberbullying
- Spam, deceptive metadata, and scams
While none of these topics are appropriate for our kids at any age, the conversation you have with them about what is ok, depends on their age. You know your child best and while it’s tempting to just say no and restrict what they’re watching through a hard fast rule, it’s better to have a conversation about the why behind it. Helping them understand the why behind the no will make more sense. It will also help them become more conscious about the kinds of content they’re watching as new trends pop up.
It’s hard to avoid the speed at which new content is being uploaded to YouTube and how quickly our kids tend to find it. Popular YouTube themes like unboxing, surprise egg, and challenge videos have captured their attention but there’s also the very real possibility that they might stumble upon something that slipped through the filters and algorithms.
Let your child know that this is a possibility and if this happens, they’re not in trouble. Encourage younger kids to come get you so you can report inappropriate content that violates the Community Guidelines. Teach older kids how to report inappropriate content so they can take charge and report it themselves.
Do You Understand Why We Use Parental Controls?
YouTube parental controls can help keep your kids safe from content we don’t want them to see on the free YouTube Kids app and on YouTube but they’re not a substitute for talking to your kids. There is always a chance that YouTube content may get through your settings and YouTube’s filters, algorithms, and other safety checks. It is a good idea to take a look at your parental control settings and know about Restricted Mode to be sure that you’ve made adjustments to the default settings. Here’s my post about Why You Need to Set Up YouTube Parental Controls and how to do it.
Why Do You Think You Need Your Own YouTube Channel?
This could be an entire post on its own and one day it will be. There are so many things to consider when it comes to letting your kids have their own YouTube channel but for now, start by reading Is it OK for my kid to start her own YouTube channel? from Common Sense Media and Parent Resources from the YouTube Help Center.
If, and when, you’re ready for your kids to have a channel of their own, fellow YouTube Parent Panel member, Vera Sweeney from Lady and the Blog, shares some tips in her How to Start a YouTube Channel: For Beginners. While not a post specifically about your child starting a YouTube channel, Vera’s tips are great food for thought as you consider venturing down this path. Another helpful resource are these Teen Safety Tools from YouTube Help’s Privacy and Safety Center.
If you’re not ready for your child to have their own YouTube channel, the why behind your no can be that YouTube Terms of Service require you to confirm that your child is over the age of 13.
- Do kids younger than 13 have their own channels? Yes.
- Do their parents help them set up their channels? Maybe.
- Do their parents know about their channels? I hope so!
Just because they want their own channel or their friend has one, is not a good enough reason to say yes. While creating content is an active way to spend screen time, if you’re at all uncomfortable with the idea, it’s best to hold off or explore other options like KidzVuz, a perfect way for younger kids to get started creating their own videos in a safer environment.
For more information about YouTube, read my past posts including Why You Need to Set Up YouTube Parental Controls.
I am a member of the YouTube Kids Parent Panel but am not compensated for my involvement. Images courtesy of YouTube and Unsplash.