YouTube, the giant video site owned by Google, is the most popular social network for tweens. Facebook isn’t. According to a recent study by MediaSmarts, YouTube is listed as the favorite website by children in grades 4 – 6 by a wide margin.
The above statistic is a bit misleading, since many younger users don’t really use it as a network. It works very well as a video hosting and viewing platform even if you aren’t actually using it as a network. The difference is that users (including kids) who use it without actually having an account are not permitted to upload videos, or comment on or Like others’ videos. The problem is that many kids like to upload videos, and many more use the comments section. Not sure what you’re dealing with in your house? If your child has ever uploaded a video or commented on one, she has a YouTube account, and is using it whether you know about it or not.
On the question of whether YouTube used under normal circumstances is safe for kids 12 years old and younger, the answer is no. YouTube is a social network, and as such has risks for younger users similar to those found on other social networks, including adult content, predator risk and cyberbullying.
This, however, need not be the end of the discussion.
The age limit for YouTube in the U.S. is 13 (14 in Spain and Korea, 16 in the Netherlands and 13 in all other countries), but there is a way to allow minors under 13 to watch videos on YouTube safely, and without violating the age limit. Here’s what you need to do:
Shared family account – Even if your child has his or her own Gmail account, a prerequisite for having a YouTube account, we recommend that you establish a shared family Gmail account, use that to establish a new YouTube account, and confine child YouTube use to that computer. In that way, you can command the parental safety controls without having to install added software on children’s computers.
There is another reason why a shared family account is important. Google made a change recently such that if your child comments on a YouTube video, other users can send her a message via her Gmail account, even without being her “friend” on any Google property.
Safety Mode – Now that you as the parent control the YouTube account settings and will see all incoming messages, ensuring that your child is not being exposed to age-inappropriate videos is very easy. Scroll down to the bottom of any YouTube page and click on the Safety button. Change YouTube Safety Mode to “On” and click save (see below), and you are good to go.
Note: even if you have enabled Safe Search in Google, you still need to enable Safety Mode in YouTube.
Shared computer in a common area – Even with Safety Mode enabled, Google/YouTube make no guarantee that their video age ratings are 100% accurate. As such, we don’t recommend young users browse YouTube in their bedroom or other private location. Stick to a shared computer in a central room in your house for the most kid friendly results.
Turn off comments – The final step in making YouTube safe for young users is to hide the comments, and you should. Although it is not as bad as it once was, YouTube comments are home to rampant foul language and cyberbullying, especially in some of the types of videos popular with young users. If you are using Chrome or Firefox (you should be if you are concerned with this), there are free add-ons that are quick and easy to install, and enable YouTube users to hide the comments under all videos.
Incidentally, if you encounter a YouTube user who is under 13 and using the site unsafely, you can report the user to the company. YouTube has a good history of taking down accounts of underage users.
It takes some work, but I you are resigned to the fact that your child is going to watch YouTube videos, or want to allow her to do so, there are steps you can take to make it as safe and wholesome as possible.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.