Smosh, Jenna Marbles, Markiplier — the names may not mean much to you, but chances are your kids are on a first-name basis. These funny YouTube hosts, with their off-the-cuff commentary, silly antics and bewildering (to adults) subject matter, are some of the most influential personalities on young teens, garnering millions (and, in the case of disgraced Swedish gamer PewDiePie, billions) of views. But information about these personalities' shows — the content, quality, and age-appropriateness, 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 something hopefully more age-appropriate than regular YouTube. However, YouTube Kids has problems of its own. And the bottom line is: kids want to watch the original. 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 Childrens Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
So if your kids really love it, you'll have to strategize. Reading Common Sense Media reviews of YouTube channels is a good way to get a sense of their age-appropriateness and quality. And digging into the videos themselves — watching with your kids or on your own — is wise. You never know what's going to come up on a particular channel, since all the content is user-generated.
Here are parents' most commonly asked questions about YouTube and kids. Also, read our detailed review of YouTube.
What's the best way to keep tabs on my kids' YouTube-watching?
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 videos they like. But be prepared to watch some weird stuff such as unboxing videos. 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.
How can I find out what my kid has been watching on YouTube?
If you're concerned about the content your kid is watching on YouTube — 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 all will be related to stuff she's watched.
How can I minimize my kids' exposure to iffy videos on YouTube?
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. You can also try the Watch Later feature. 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.
How can I find out who's behind the videos my kid watches on YouTube?
Investigate the creator. 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. Check out our recommendations of positive role models on YouTube.
How can I manage the related videos on YouTube?
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 age-appropriate, and that will provide an indication of the appropriateness of the main video. Here are some additional tips to make YouTube's related videos a little safer.
Can I get rid of ads on YouTube?
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. Alternatively, you can consider subscribing to YouTube Red, which doesn't show ads and which also has exclusive content.
What should I say to my kid about all the mean comments people leave on YouTube?
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. It can be possible to find hate speech or child predators lurking in the comments of videos featuring or targeted to kids and teens. Channel creators have the ability to moderate their comments to reduce the amount of negativity. A well-groomed comments section may indicate a more responsible creator.
Are there any parental controls on YouTube?
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.) The YouTube app also offers some settings that remind you to take a break and restrict your time, although these features are more a part of Google's efforts to promote "digital well-being" than parental controls. If you want more control over what your kids can watch on YouTube, consider downloading the YouTube Kids app, which offers some features including screen-time limits and restricted search, to keep young kids a little safer on the platform.
How can I find good stuff on YouTube?
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 check out our YouTube reviews and curated lists of decent YouTube shows for kids, such as Funny YouTube Channels, Positive Role Models on YouTube and Best YouTube Channels and Videos for Preschool Kids.