The Ultimate Parenting Guide For Keeping Kids & Teens Safe On YouTube

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The Best Parenting Advice & Tips On Internet Safety For Kids & Teens On YouTube

By: Caroline Knorr

Smosh, Good Mythical Morning, Markiplier — the names may not mean much to you, but chances are your kids are on a first-name basis.

Their funny hosts, off-the-cuff commentary, silly antics, and bewildering (to adults) subject matter put them among the most popular YouTube channels for young teens, garnering millions (and, in the case of game commentator PewDiePie, billions) of views.

In fact, according to a survey of U.S. teens by Variety, the current top five most influential celebrities are YouTubers.

But important information about these personalities' shows — the content, quality, and age-appropriateness, and whether or not they're teen safe for example — isn't easy for parents to find.

It would be great to be able to just download YouTube Kids and have your kids watch it instead of regular YouTube. However, even YouTube Kids has problems of its own.

And the bottom line is really this: most kids want to watch the original YouTube.

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But it's tough to manage. Anyone can create YouTube channels, they crop up seemingly out of nowhere, they don't follow program schedules, and they're cast out among thousands of other videos.

There are also serious concerns that YouTube collects data from young users, in violation of the Children's Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

So if your kids really love it, you'll have to strategize using some internet safety tips. Digging into the YouTube videos themselves — watching with your kids or on your own — is also wise. You never know what's going to come up on a particular channel, since all the content is user-generated.

Try these ideas to find YouTube videos for kids and keep their channels teen safe.

The basics:

1. Watch YouTube videos with your kid

Simply ask your kids what they're watching and join them. In general, kids are tuning into certain channels or following specific YouTube personalities because they're entertained by them (not because they are actively searching for "bad" stuff). Many kids naturally want to share the YouTube videos they like. But be prepared to watch some weird stuff such as unboxing videos.

2. Watch your kid's YouTube by yourself 

If kids don't want to share, get the name of the channel they're watching and watch it later. Watch a few videos by the same creator to get a feel for the content.

3. Be sleuth-y

If you're concerned about whether the content she's watching on YouTube is teen safe — and you've tried talking to her — there are ways of tracking her viewing habits. If she has a YouTube account (which only requires a Gmail address), her YouTube page will display her recently watched videos, recommended videos based on her watch history, and suggestions for channels similar to the ones she's watched.

Even if your kid deletes her "watch history," the recommendations will be related to stuff she's watched, including her YouTube subscriptions.

4. Subscribe to YouTube videos for kids

Encourage your kids to subscribe to their favorite channels rather than hunting around on YouTube for the latest ones from a specific creator. Subscribers are notified when a new video is uploaded, plus all their channels are displayed in the Subscriptions section, making it easier, and faster, to go directly to the stuff they like.

Consider choosing subscriptions together, and make an event out of watching the newest uploads with your kids.

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The nitty-gritty:

1. Investigate the YouTuber

The name of each video's creator appears beneath the video window and usually has a bit of information about the person behind the video and/or the channel itself. Google the creator's name to find out whether he or she has a Wikipedia page or another Web presence (most YouTubers use other social media including Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram to promote their brand).

You might find out that your kid's favorite YouTube personality has an impressive reach.

2. Look at the suggestions

The suggested videos listed on the right-hand side of the page are related in some way to the main video. Evaluate them to see if they seem teen safe, and that will provide an indication of the appropriateness of the main video.

3. Block YouTube ads

There are tons of ads on YouTube. Even if your kids stick to kid videos, they'll see commercials for stuff that may not be appropriate. You can try to reduce or manage exposure to advertising, but the best option is to talk to your kids about viewing all marketing critically so they don't get sucked in. Here's how to block ads on YouTube

4. Read the comments

YouTube comments are notorious for being negative, but it's worth reading them to get a sense of the channels' demographic and the tone of the discussion. YouTubers can moderate their comments to reduce the amount of negativity. Well-groomed comments are a good sign.

5. Watch the channel trailer

Many creators make highlight reels and trailers — basically video ads for the YouTube channels themselves (which usually appear first on the channel page). Definitely watch them if they're available to get an overview of the host and whether or not the content is teen safe.

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Finding good stuff:

1. Turn on restricted mode

Be aware that YouTube is technically only for teens 13 and up, and what the site considers age-appropriate may not match your values. But YouTube offers a filter called Restricted Mode that limits the iffy stuff. Go to your account settings page and toggle on Restricted Mode at the bottom of the page. (It will remain on for logged-in users on the same browser.)

2. Dig a little

Most kids find out about new videos either from their friends or by clicking on the related videos (which may or may not be appropriate). But YouTube itself offers several ways to home in on quality content. Go to YouTube Spotlight for curated content in a variety of categories. Read about YouTube news on the company blog, and find out what's trending all over the country. 

3. Watch later

YouTube gives you the ability to save videos to watch at a later time, which improves the odds that your kids will be exposed to stuff you've pre-approved. You can create playlists, too, virtually designing a customized programming schedule of content for each of your kids or for different subjects they're interested in.

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Caroline Knorr is a parenting writer who helps families make informed choices about what their kids play, see, and read. She has worked for Bay Area Parent magazine, and is the mother of a teenage boy who loves everything digital.

This article was originally published at Common Sense . Reprinted with permission from the author.