Turn Off Location on Your Teen’s Phone

iPhone PrivacuYour teen’s smartphone knows where it (and he) is, and most of the time that’s a good thing. Many phone functions (like Google Maps) that are a mainstay of the current smartphone experience would not work without location turned on.

You may want to know where your teen and that phone are as well. If you use an app like TeenSafe (or one of many others) to monitor your teen’s location, that too will not work if location is turned off.

You don’t want strangers – especially predators – to know where your teen is, and this is the key pitfall to young smartphone users keeping location turned on. A new study out of MIT and Oxford University reveals that as few as 8 tweets over the course of a day, even to a low-tech hacker, can reveal both the home address and the school or workplaceiPhone location of a Twitter user. Based on our understanding, the same is true of Instagram, or any other app where location is a secondary, if optional, feature of user posts.

The study was designed to illustrate how much privacy social media users could be giving up, but in the case of young users and predators, privacy is far from an abstract construct. Snooping advertisers are one thing; strangers who could do harm a much more significant risk.

The good news is that this is easy to fix. If your teen is an iPhone user, you can go to Settings->Privacy and see whether Location is turned on or off. There is also a list of the apps which have requested access, and which have been granted access. You can turn location off for the phone entirely, or for individual apps. Settings are similarly structured for Android phones.

iPhone location appsWe recommend turning location off entirely for day-to-day use.

If your teen is at the Statue of Liberty, and wants to post a picture with the location marked, she can turn location on to make that post, then turn it off again. It takes a couple of seconds.

If you read this and ask your teen to turn location off, she’s probably comply, but you’ll need to make sure it stays off. We’re sure you wouldn’t encourage your teen to post “I live at 123 Main Street, Princeton NJ” to Twitter. Help her make sure she isn’t doing it by accident.

 

 

If you want to make sure your teen is not at risk, we can help. The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). Ongoing monitoring is $15 per month and you can cancel at any time. Click here to sign up today!

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

Managing Parental Restrictions On Your Child’s iPhone

We wrote recently about how to determine the right age to give your child her first phone. When that time comes, you might opt for a cheap, simple phone or you may decide that the iPhone is the right choice.

Apple updated its operating system to iOS 9.3 this week, and it looks to us as though the restrictions settings have changed, so we thought we’d walk you through how to manage the restrictions if you’re doing it for the first time.

ProTip: If this is a new phone, or your child’s first phone, set the restrictions before you give the phone to your child. None of the restrictions are permanent, so any or all of them can be set for an hour or a year; it’s up to you.

Let’s get started

iphone-parental-restrictions

 

The first step is to set the passcode. Go to Settings > General > Restrictions and you will be asked to enter a passcode. The initial Restrictions passcode will be the same as the passcode for the phone’s home screen. To change it to one only you will know, after you’ve entered the passcode, tap “Disable Restrictions” on the top of the next screen. Then tap “Enable Restrictions” and you will be asked to set a new passcode. You’ll be asked to enter it twice. Don’t forget this passcode because if you do and want to adjust the restrictions in the future, you’ll need to reset the phone entirely.

 

 

Features

IMG2The first section determines which of the phone’s features you want your child to be able to use. The default option is “on” (green). If you tap the green button, it will change to white, meaning that you have restricted the use of that feature. In terms of what each does, most are self-explanatory, but for parents who are new to Apple:

Safari – This is Apple’s internet browser. If you don’t want your child browsing the web on her phone, disable Safari.

Camera – If you want to restrict the ability to take pictures, disable Camera. This may be a good idea temporarily if you’re going to church or to a funeral.

Siri & Dictation – Siri is Apple’s digital assistant. Her job is to answer questions that you speak into the phone. Dictation can be used for talk-to-text.

Facetime – Facetime can be used to video call other iPhone users.

Airdrop – Allows iPhone users to share photos, videos, websites, locations, and other files with Apple device users who are nearby.

CarPlay – Connects the iPhone to your car’s dashboard display and controls. If you want to blast your kid’s tunes while driving him to soccer, don’t touch this setting.

Downloads and Media

IMG3For the next section of restrictions, your choices are on/off as well, as in “allow” or “don’t allow”.

iTunes Store – Leaving this on will allow your child to download songs from the iTunes store if she has money in her iTunes account.

Apple Music Connect – Allows music fans to interact with content direct from their favorite artists.

iBooks Store – If you want her to be able to buy books to read on this phone (or iPad), leave this on. Again, she’ll need to have to have money in her iTunes account.

Podcasts – These are digital audio or video files that can be downloaded to the phone.

News – A selection of news articles curated by Apple.

Installing Apps – If you want to approve each app download, tap this restriction. In that way, your child will have to ask you to remove the restriction with each new download. This is a big one for younger kids.

Deleting Apps – If there are apps that you want to stay on the phone no matter what, tap this restriction.

In-App Purchases – Many games allow players to make game-related purchases (upgrades, game tools) in the course of playing. If you plan to fund your child’s iTunes account, but don’t want the money spent on gaming, tap this restriction.

Content

IMG4The next section is Allowed Content. Your options here are a little more complicated. All content in the iTunes store is labeled or rated, either by the creator or a third party.

Ratings For – Select your home country from this list to ensure that the age/other ratings are accurate for your area.

Music, Podcasts & News – Here you can choose whether you want to allow your child to be able to access explicit content – words, lyrics, images or video.

Movies – Your can choose “No Movies”, “All Movies” or approve according to rating – G, PG, PG-13, R, or NC-17. If you leave the checkmark beside the PG, for example, your child will be able to watch PG-rated movies on this phone.

TV Shows – Again, you can enable no TV shows or all TV shows, or restrict by rating from TV-Y (okay for young viewers) to TV-MA (mature audiences only).

Books – In this section you can prohibit the download of books with explicit sexual content.

Apps – Every app in the App Store is age-rated. You can allow all apps or none, or choose one of the age limits suggested by Apple, which are 4+ (okay for kids 4 and older), 9+. 12+, 17+. FYI, an app that is rated 17+ will not do anything effective to prevent a 12-year old from using it. You need to apply that setting here.

Siri – There are two options here. The first is to prohibit Siri requests that include explicit content. You should tap on this one. The second is whether you want Siri to search the web for content requested by the speaker. This one is up to you.

Websites – You can allow access to all websites, prohibit web access to sites with adult content, or type in specific websites that you don’t want accessed from this phone.

Location and Services

IMG5Location Services – If the location services are turned on, there are many ways that your child can unknowingly divulge her location, in real time, to strangers. Location services can be enabled or disabled for the entire phone, or on an app-by-app basis. For the youngest kids, we recommend turning location services off and tapping the Don’t Allow Changes button so that your child can’t turn it on. If you use an app to track your child’s location, this solution won’t work for you.

The list of apps and services that may use the phone’s location are listed below. Each of them can be set to Never or While Using. For example, let’s say your daughter takes a selfie and sends it to a friend. If the Camera’s location setting here is set to “While Using”, the picture will include data that shows the location where the picture was taken. This can be unsafe.

Contacts – This setting controls which apps will be able to access the phone’s contacts list. If there is an app that you don’t trust, your child shouldn’t be using it, but if you’re at all unsure, tap the green button beside that app, then tap the Don’t Allow Changes button at the top.

You can safely ignore the next two – Calendars and Reminders.

Photos – If your child is using an app and you don’t want her posting pictures to that app, this section is for you. Tap the green button beside the apps you want to restrict, then tap the Don’t Allow Changes button at the top.

Share my Location – If you use the Find My Friends app to keep track of your child’s location, tap Don’t Allow Changes here.

Gaming

IMG6There are a few other restrictions at the bottom that we don’t need to get into, but there is one of note for parents, and that is Game Center.

Tapping to restrict Multiplayer Games will limit your child’s game options to those that are single player only. Doing this is a good idea if you’re worried about your child being cyberbullied in multi player games. I use this setting for my daughter. Tapping the Adding Friends button will restrict the phone from adding new contacts in the game center, and from using the phone’s contacts list to send game invitations.

In summary, Apple has done a great job giving parents the flexibility to lock down areas and functions that concern them. From what we’ve seen Android phones have a similar set of capabilities, and we’ll review those in the coming weeks.

If you still have questions, you can leave them below and we’ll respond by email.

 

 

DID YOU KNOW?: The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). You can cancel at any time. Sign up today!

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

More Problems with the After School App

after-school-appWe wrote last week about the anonymous After School app that caters to high school students. We have a number of issues with the app, not the least of which is that anonymous communications tend to be very popular with cyberbullies.

In the article last week we focused on, among other things, the fact that I was able to sign up to the page of a local high school despite the fact that the app is supposed to be for students only.

In any anonymous community, one might assume there is a risk that other members of the community aren’t who they claim to be. In the worst-case scenario, some users might be cyberbullies or worse, predators looking to do real harm. That risk has been downplayed by the reviews of the After School that we’ve seen. For example, in their review of the app, Common Sense media writes:

“The age controls are tight, too, which not only means that non-teen predators will have difficulty getting in, but it also means parents can’t monitor teens’ postings themselves.”

That seems to be consensus – that it is nearly impossible for non high school students to join a school network. That was not the case in our experience. After I selected the local high school from a list, the app asked to connect with Facebook to verify student status. I didn’t lie about my status, just clicked “OK” and was quickly connected.after-school-facebook

That brings up a second issue with the app. While After School did make the following claim, “This does not let the app post to Facebook”, it said nothing else about what else it might do with my Facebook information. I returned to the app the following day and noticed that After School has posted for me, and included my first name and my Facebook profile photo. I didn’t sign up for that, and didn’t know it was a possibility.

Our third issue with the app is a more minor one. Users who want to access the “mature” content on the app are supposed to scan their student ID card to verify that they are an upperclassman. I have a son who is 17-year old high school student at a large school. I asked him to try it and the scan was not compatible with the code on his student I.D. Also, if he was able to scan it, there is no way to verify that it was his I.D. he was scanning.

Since that app’s introduction last year, they have made some positive changes. Some of them are described well in an article this week at ChicagoNow.

We have a number of questions:

  • In theory, how is the Facebook link supposed to confirm high school student status?
  • Why didn’t it work in my case?
  • Shouldn’t After School clearly disclose if they are going to use my Facebook info and post for me?

For now, we strongly caution parents to keep their teens off After School. We’d like to see some answers.

 

 

 

NEW: For a limited time the ThirdParent audit is FREE (normally $49). You can cancel at any time. Sign up today!

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

Infographic – Parent’s Guide to Teens and Mobile Use

There’s a great new infographic out this month from the folks at CellPhoneCity’s Responsible Gadget Ownership team titled A Parent’s Guide to Teens and Mobile Use.

You can see the full infographic below, but first there are a couple of statistics that caught our eye:

The average US child gets his first cell phone at age 12. This seems like the correct number to us. There was a widely mentioned study earlier this year that claimed the average age is 6 years old, but we didn’t believe that for a second. Of course, it may be appropriate for kids younger than 12 to have a cell phone, particularly latch key kids or those who are active in after school activities. When you do it is an important consideration; what you tell them about it is equally so…

Only 26% of families have a contract for cell phone use. A contract, which spells out what is permitted and what isn’t, is certainly helpful, but the same end can be achieved without a formal document. It is very important that parents spell out the family’s expectations for safe and responsible use.

The full infographic:

While some schools use smartphones or tablets for in-class educational activities, according to the survey 72% of schools do not permit cell phone use in class. 51% of teens take their phone to school every day, so make sure that your child knows the rules and avoids distraction.

Only 17 states have laws on the books regarding sexting, but anyone who watches the news knows that it is a growing problem. Talk to your child early about the risks – before you purchase that first phone.

Smartphones are now part of the landscape, and we’re not going back. Make sure that your child understands the rules and the risks before purchasing their first phone, and monitor things carefully. It’s the safe and smart thing to do.

 

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

Is Snapchat Safe for 10, 11 and 12 Year Olds?

Snapchat-logoThere is no data available about how many underage users are on Snapchat. That in itself is a problem, but it’s part of the landscape. If you want to lie about your age when you sign up for a social site, you can. In our experience, any kid with a phone can figure it out.

Snapchat’s stated age limit is 13, but since it is the social app with by far the youngest user group – fully 45% of users are under 25 vs. 20% for the other major social networks and apps – we can assume that many kids under 13 are using it. Is it safe for kids? Let’s take a look.

How Snapchat works is pretty simple: users take a photo or short video (a “snap”), annotate it with text or doodles, set the timer for how long the content will be viewable before it “disappears”, then send it to a friend or group. It is very in-the-moment engaging, but there are issues:

Pictures don’t really disappear – Snapchat has backed off the claim that pictures disappear, but users have been carrying on as if they do. What are the risks?

  • According to one forensics firm, deleted pictures are saved in a hidden file in one’s phone. Pictures and video can be retrieved by someone with the correct skill set.
  • The recipient can take a screen shot, although the sender will be notified if she does
  • If the recipient has a jailbroken iPhone, he can save all incoming snaps without notifying the sender
  • The recipient can take a photo of the snap with another phone or camera
  • Unopened snaps are saved on Snapchat’s servers for 30 days

If someone does manage to get a picture that your child sent, it can be posted anywhere online, with or without your child’s knowledge. If your child is not sending or receiving anything untoward, the above issues really don’t matter much, but risks are risks.

No parental controls – Even if you use software downloaded to your child’s phone to monitor his activity, you won’t be able to see what he is sending or receiving via Snapchat.

Location data – In order to use certain Snapchat features, including Filters and Our Stories, users must opt in to sharing their location data. If your tween has Snapchat “friends’ who are actually strangers, this is a risk.

Who are your friends? – When you first download the app, you can build a list of Snapchat friends from you phone’s address book. For the average tween, this shouldn’t be a problem. We have, however, seen far too many examples of young users posting their Snapchat username online, either in forums or in their Instagram or Ask.fm profiles or feeds. This type of friend collecting can be very dangerous.

Questionable behavior is seen as acceptable – Young kids learn by example, and it’s no secret that while Snapchat is not only, or mostly used for sexting, it is the go-to app for sending risqué pics to a love interest. A study published last year found that 1 in 4 adolescents aged 12 – 14 are involved in sexting. Can the 10 – 12 year old crowd be far behind?

In Snapchat’s case the app is not the problem; user behavior is. It’s not much different from other social apps. From the document, “A Parents’ Guide to Snapchat”:

“…there’s no need to panic every time you hear a media report about something awful happening in social media. The reason the news media cover awful situations is because they’re rare. How often do you see headlines about planes landing safely?”

That’s true to a point, but if you are allowing a tween to download and use Snapchat, you are trusting that she is mature enough to keep herself safe from predators and cyberbullies, and to stick to age appropriate behavior. Since that’s a lot to ask of a youngster, we caution parents to wait until kids are older before allowing them to get involved with Snapchat.

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

Twitter Takes Aim Against Abusive Users

If you’ve seen cyberbullying on Twitter, or worse, had it happen to one of your teens, you know how devastating it can be. Earlier this year, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo went on a memorable rant taking his own company to task for not effectively dealing with abuse. His rant included the following:

twitter-logo“We’re going to start kicking [the abusers] off right and left and making sure that when they issue their ridiculous attacks, nobody hears them.”

This week, Twitter took its next step toward creating a safer environment, issuing an update titled, “Policy and product update aimed at combating abuse.

We are very encouraged to see Twitter take a hard stand against trolls. This isn’t just about attacks on public or controversial figures either. Cyberbullying and anonymous threats are real issues for some everyday users. Making Twitter a safer place is not only a noble goal, but also the right thing to do.

This week’s update both expands the breadth of actions that are prohibited, and increases Twitter’s tools for enforcement.

The prohibited actions guidelines continue to include direct, specific threats of violence against others, but now also include promoting violence against others. If you are looking to organize a Lynch Mob, you presumably won’t be able to do it on Twitter.

On the enforcement side, Twitter will now have the option of suspending abusive accounts for a period of time. This is new. In the past, Twitter could demand that a user delete an abusive tweet, or they could shut down an account entirely. The interim step of a temporary suspension makes sense to us, especially in grey areas.

The sheer volume of tweets makes it impossible for Twitter to monitor everything in real time. Many or most abusive posts will not be caught unless a user reports them to Twitter. To help get ahead of this, Twitter alludes to the fact that they will use analytics to identify a “wide range of signals and context that frequently correlates with abuse including the age of the account itself, and the similarity of a Tweet to other content that our safety team has in the past independently determined to be abusive”.

Kudos to Twitter for these efforts. For teens on Twitter, it looks like the overall user experience will be safer in the future, but when encountering abuse, it is still a good idea to report the user in addition to blocking or muting him. It’s easy to do and free of charge.

 

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

YouTube Kids Has a Problem With Ads

If your child is young enough that YouTube Kids is a good, safer alternative to plain old YouTube, does that mean that she might not be old enough to understand the difference between advertising and youtube-kidsregular content? Some groups think that’s so, and are making their opinion heard.

Before we jump on the bandwagon criticizing YouTube Kids for targeting youngsters with ads, let us first say that YouTube Kids has solved most of the big problems for kids presented by YouTube:

  • YouTube’s age limit is 13, so kids can’t legally join, and YouTube’s rules don’t include safeguards appropriate for kids
  • There are no comments allowed, so the risk of cyberbullying is zero
  • Children who download the app do not create an “account” or have an identity, so there is no predator risk
  • The hand picked content is safe for kids, in that it contains no adult content such as mature themes or coarse language
  • Kids can’t upload their own content, so they won’t be prone to attracting creepers

At issue today is a different thing entirely. A coalition of child advocacy groups, including the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy, are planning to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission today, arguing that Google’s YouTube Kids is unfairly targeting kids with advertising. The group goes as far as calling the content “hyper-commercialized media”.

YouTube Kids launched in February, and is rated 4+ (intended for kids older than 4) – my 7-year old likes it. The Android store alone indicates that the app has been downloaded between 1 and 5 million times, so when you add in iPhones and iPads, we’ll assume that the app has between 5 and 15 million users. That’s a big number of 5 – 10 year old kids.

youtube-kids-kinderWe agree that much of the content on YouTube Kids is thinly veiled advertising – product placements and promotions that are instead labeled as entertainment or educational videos. For example, “Learning Sizes with Surprise Eggs!” teaches a little about sizes, and a lot about Kinder chocolate eggs with toys inside. Kids will want those eggs.

To be clear, though, while we are hopeful that YouTube Kids will do a better job of labeling and limiting the advertising, we think that it is a welcome addition to the under 13 app community, and hope that it isn’t disrupted too much.

There are lots of worse places for kids online than YouTube Kids.

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

Online Gaming and Predator Risk

A story this week about an accused child predator in New Jersey has a twist in it that should give pause to a lot of parents out there.

gameboy-advanceA Flemington New Jersey man who was arrested last year on child pornography charges was charged again, this time for trying to have an 11-year old girl send him nude photos. The catch? He used a Gameboy to find and contact the girl. According to NJ Acting Attorney General John Hoffman:

“This case is a cautionary tale for parents, who need to be aware that their children may encounter sexual predators online in places they would not expect. Pirretti allegedly used a children’s game and the chat feature offered by this gaming network to try to target this innocent young girl for sexual exploitation. Fortunately, her parents learned of his alleged predatory behavior and alerted law enforcement.”

A Gameboy is thought of by most as a harmless toy for children, but it isn’t. As a matter of fact, any device that has internet access can be used by predators to contact children.

It’s important for parents to start educating kids about the risks of online activity before ever granting internet access, even via a handheld gaming system. It’s equally important for parents to be vigilant about what kids are doing online and whom they’re communicating with.

We realize that it’s difficult to talk to young kids about the existence of predators and other online characters who are up to no good, but it’s essential. This of it this way: if your child isn’t mature enough to hear about the risks that exist in the online world, perhaps she’s not mature enough to have unsupervised internet access.

Better safe than sorry.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

Is Your Teen Using a Hookup Website or App?

We frequently encourage parents of teens to take a few minutes every once in a while to check which apps are on their teen’s phone. Seeing what apps are there, and actually having a conversation about what they do and what they’re used for, can be a very helpful step in figuring out what your teen is doing online, and if anything is amiss.

meetmeWhat if you do check your teen’s phone and you see a hookup app on there? We don’t mean a real dating app, but rather one that is primarily used to find people in your area who are looking for a casual fling. Among the most popular are the following:

What are the relevant issues for parents? I signed up for a Tagged account to take a closer look, and reviewed the Terms of Service of the other five.

Age limits – The age limit for Meet Me, Skout and Tinder is 13. For Tagged, Badoo and Zoosk, the age limit is 18. When I signed up for Tinder, there was no real age verification – I could have selected any age I wanted as long as it was over 18. Basically, the age limit isn’t stopping anyone from signing up.

Profile picture – Users are encouraged to upload a profile picture, and everyone does, because nobody is going to be interested without first seeing a picture.

Location – Each of the sites above use location as a key feature, which makes sense because you could hardly hook up with someone hundreds of miles away.

Stopping right here, if your teen is using a hookup app, in all likelihood she has posted an appealing profile picture and told thousands or millions of other users her location. Not safe at all.

Content – All of these sites prohibit sexually explicit content, so you needn’t worry about your teen viewing nudity. There is no doubt, however, that there is sexting going on between willing members.

Cyberbullying – All sites prohibit harassment, so cyberbullying should not be an issue if the moderators do their job, but I there is a chance that someone posting an unflattering profile picture would receive harsh comments in return.

What to do if you’re concerned – If you find your teen using a hookup app, have him or her delete the account entirely, and remember that it is not enough to just delete the app. Other users will still be able to make contact unless the entire account is deleted.

The bottom line is that there are documented cases of sexual predators using a false identity and a dating app to lure victims. It is not safe for teens to meet strangers online, and a website or app built specifically for this purpose, with the goal of an in-person meeting, is just a bad idea for teens. Not all strangers online are who they say they are.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

Is YouTube Safe for 12-Year Olds? 11? 10?

YouTubeYouTube, 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.

YouTube-Safety-Mode

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.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can sign up for our weekly newsletter on the right.