What parents need to know about YouTube

Andrea Tomkins

YouTube is a window into a world of wonder. There is so much great material to be found there, whether it’s for education, entertainment, or inspiration.  But there’s also a lot of inappropriate stuff in amongst the cat videos and Kid President. Question is, how do we, as parents, help our kids safely navigate YouTube?

I opened the door to YouTube when my daughters were about five and seven years old. I bookmarked collections of videos and we always watched them together. The Muppets and the Sesame Street Channel were among our favourites. More often than not I’d search for vintage Bugs Bunny and other cartoons I enjoyed when I was a kid. (The Barber of Seville was on regular rotation for a long time around here. Remember that one?)

Most of the videos we watched clocked in under 10 minutes or so. It was all I needed to distract the girls while I was brushing the tangles out of their hair. YouTube made my life easier, and it was fun, fast, and easy to keep it at one or two items before we turned it off and got on with our day.

I’ve spoken to many parents whose children prefer to watch YouTube instead of regular cable. It used to surprise me but it doesn’t anymore. Just look at the numbers.

  • More than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube each month
  • Over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube—that's almost an hour for every person on Earth, and 50% more than last year
  • 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute
  • According to Nielsen, YouTube reaches more US adults ages 18-34 than any cable network

It wasn’t until my kids were old enough to start looking up some of their favourite singers and shows that I started to worry about what they were watching when I wasn’t in a direct line of view.

There are two aspects of YouTube that are worth talking to your kids about: the consuming/watching side of it, and the uploading/sharing side.

If your child is using YouTube to watch videos, consider adopting some “best practices” for your family so everyone stays safe and happy:

  1. Keep the computer in a high traffic area. This way there is less temptation to spend time searching who knows what.
  2. Take a peek at YouTube’s Safety Center on YouTube before handing over control of the computer. There are a lot of great resources about privacy, harassment, bullying, and more.
  3. Most YouTube videos allow comments. This  makes it just as much of a social networking site as Facebook. Make sure your child understands what it means to be a good social media citizen. There’s a great tip sheet about it here.
  4. Check the safety mode. You can find it at the very bottom of the page at YouTube.com. It’s not 100 per cent accurate, but once it’s enabled it will help filter out some of the more objectionable content.  There’s more information about how to enable the safety mode right here.

Creating videos can be a really fun and enriching activity, and it’s something I actively encourage my kids to do. It’s so easy nowadays, as many cameras and smart phones have movie-making apps built right in that are easy to use.

However, just like with Instagram, young people need to think about the impact and possible consequences of what they post online.

My kids don’t have their own YouTube account, so if they have something to upload it’s always done through mine, which has worked out wonderfully so far. I’m going to keep it this way for as long as I can. When my kids get to the point of wanting their own accounts, I’m going to suggest a couple of things:

  1. To make use of YouTube’s privacy features. You can easily set personal videos to “private” or “unlisted” and share a video’s URL with select people.  A private video can only be seen by up to 50 other people whom are invited to view the video. And it won’t appear on a users’ channel or in search results or playlists, and will be invisible to other users.
  2. To consider a totally anonymous account, with no identifying information in relation to their username (first/last), place of residence, or gender. Studies have shown that women with more “female-oriented” user names put with a lot more harassment. For example, think about what your daughter may be setting herself up for if her screen name was CuteLittleGirl14.
  3. To make sure they always heed the “grandma rule.” What would Nana say if she saw this video?  

It’s always good to teach your kids to ask themselves a few critical questions before posting videos online.

  • What does my video say about me? How might I appear to someone who doesn’t know me?
  • Could this video embarrass me or anyone in it, now or a few years from now.
  • Can other people be recognized in this video? Have I asked their permission before posting this online?
  • If I’ve included music, do I have permission from the artist or have I used music that is in the public domain?

I’ve always believed that YouTube is a mirror of who we are as a society. There is so much beauty, hilarity, and cultural significance to be found there, but mixed in with that is also a lot of idiocy and ugliness. Teaching our kids how to navigate through it all is just as important as teaching them how to navigate through life itself. Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear how you approach this vast video landscape in your household!