YouTube Kids: What You Need to Know

Pink graphic with red and white YouTube Kids logo. Text reads "What you need to know about YouTube Kids"

YouTube Kids is one of the many video streaming services marketed as a safe option for kids. However, it’s important to consider how this user-generated video platform differs from other streaming services. We’re sharing what you need to know and what you can do to keep your kids safe. 

  1. Algorithm-determined Autoplay 
    Like many streaming platforms, the YouTube Kids app default settings serve up videos even after your selected video has played. However, because it is a user-generated video platform, you have very little control over what plays next. In contrast, if you were playing a show for your child on Disney+, you would know with certainty that the next thing to play would be the next episode in the series. This is not the case with YouTube Kids if you have not changed the default settings. It could play a video covering a completely different topic and uploaded by a different content creator. The decision is made by an algorithm, not by you or your child.  
    When we put our kids in front of YouTube Kids, we are letting the algorithm decide what is appropriate. Unfortunately, even though the title of this streaming platform includes the word “kids,” it is not capable of promising a safe experience.  
  1. Mismatched Visual & Audio 
    YouTube Kids has received complaints of animated cartoon videos seemingly targeted toward kids (and existing on the YouTube Kids platform) that are paired with extremely violent or sexually explicit audio. The scary part? Many times, kids are watching on the tablet with headphones. They could be in the same room as you and you may not have any idea what’s going on, even if you occasionally peek at their screen.  
  1. Age-Inappropriate Ads 

Unless you have YouTube Premium, your child will be served ads before and during videos, 
which may not be age-appropriate for them.  

What you can do… 

+ Explore parental controls. We can’t rely on the default settings of our kids’ apps. YouTube Kids has some useful parental control options to consider. We highly recommend turning off the autoplay option. Additionally, you can turn off the search feature on the app, which narrows the scope of what your child has access to. While the parental control options are not perfect, they are a step in the right direction once implemented.  

+ Know what your child is watching. 
Whether it is YouTube Kids or another streaming platform, know what your child is watching. Whether that means content vetted by someone you trust or you’ve pre-watched whatever they’re watching. We cannot trust algorithms or Big Tech to do the vetting for us.  

+ Set a timer. 
Did you know that YouTube Kids has a timer integrated into the app? Know how long the video is that they’re watching and set a timer so you can step in before a different video begins playing. Setting a timer also helps put a stop to the endless content. Similar to doom scrolling, it can feel like there is no end point to the continuous videos our children can watch. A timer helps introduce a stopping point and keeps you and your child on the same page.  

+ Research other video streaming platforms. 
Explore streaming platform options to decide what you feel comfortable with your child having access to. Identify content available, autoplay settings, cost, parental controls and decide what feels like a good — and safe — option for your family. Our team of parents likes creating kid-friendly profiles on Amazon Prime, Netflix, PBS Kids or Disney+. 

+ Stay in the same room as your child. 
Staying close to your child can mean that they might be quick to speak up when something feels off or they need help. Sometimes your presence alone can help avoid or stop an unsafe situation. 

+ Remove headphones. 

Removing headphones from screentime is a great way to keep your child safe. If you start hearing something that concerns or surprises you, you can easily intervene. Hearing what your child is hearing also helps you continue to build a relationship with them. You can recall what you heard on a video they were watching, or comment on what you liked. And yes, while it may be slightly annoying to have their videos playing in the background while you prepare dinner or read a book, it can help keep your child safe.