At this point, it seems like there’s just no avoiding YouTube as a parent. Even if you decide to be a “no YouTube” family chances are good your kid is going to befriend people from more-plugged-in households. In optimal settings, the platform offers hundreds of thousands of hours of videos to entertain your child. In less-than-optimal settings, your child might be watching Peppa Pig one minute and untold horrors the next. Below, some best practices on limiting YouTube to the genuinely kid-friendly.
For Regular YouTube:
1. Turn on Restricted Mode, which hides “potentially mature videos.” Note: You have to turn it on or off individually for every browser or device your kid might use to watch videos. Also note: YouTube is very clear this filter is not 100 percent effective, but it’s better than nothing.
2. Subscribe to channels you trust. Spend some time with your kid’s YouTube account — or yours, if you share — and find creators whose videos are both entertaining and also feel safe enough that you can leave your child alone with an iPad without you giving you an ulcer wondering if their cartoons are spliced with a snuff film. By doing this, you’re also showing YouTube’s algorithm the kinds of content you want to be shown.
3. Check your Watch History and remove anything problematic. YouTube uses what you’ve previously watched to fuel recommendations, so curating the list will help keep the algorithm suggesting positive content. This history also allows you — assuming your smart-ass kid hasn’t figured out how to wipe it — to see what your child has been watching and discuss it with them.
4. Turn off Autoplay, so that when your child finishes watching a video they won’t immediately be served another video followed by another and another until their brain turns to Blippi-fueled soup.
5. Teach your kids how to flag inappropriate content. Tap the triple-dots icon — on mobile it’s on the top right-hand corner of the screen, on a desktop it’s beneath the video player — and click Report.
6. Consider paying for YouTube Premium. It might seem counterintuitive to give your money to a fraught platform that has historically been not great at keeping kids safe, but for $12 you can use YouTube without seeing any ads. (Your Premium subscription also removes ads from YouTube Kids.) Subscribers can also download videos for offline viewing, which means you could vet and download a bunch of videos from creators your kid likes in advance and then give them a device that is not connected to the internet. (Downloads remain as long as your device connects to the internet once every 30 days.) Think of it as the YouTube version of popping in a VHS tape in 1995. You know exactly what your kids are going to get and how long it’ll run.
For YouTube Kids:
1. Select the Approve Yourself option when you set your child’s profile. It’s a pain and requires more work on your end, but it’s the only way to guarantee your kids are only watching videos you’ve selected in advance. In this mode, you’ll be able to hand-pick every video they see and they won’t be able to search for any other content. Think of it as curating a video library for your kids. YouTube offers content settings by age bracket, but notes “not all videos have been manually reviewed.” Which is code for “We’re not liable if Momo shows up and terrorizes your 5-year-old son.
2. Set passwords for each individual child’s account linked to your account. This way your 3-year-old can’t get into videos you’ve picked for your 10-year-old. Each kid will need a personal four-digit code, which should be different from the code you use to access the parent account. You can have up to eight kids per parent account.
3. If your kid can do basic multiplication, change to a numeric passcode. YouTube Kids uses math problems as a gatekeeper for the settings page, but the questions probably won’t stump your 12-year-old. Opt to change it to a four-digit code instead. (And then don’t tell your child the code. Meaning you probably shouldn’t just use the one that unlocks your phone.)
4. Set a time limit. YouTube Kids will give your child the boot after they’ve burned through their allotted screen time for that day.
*A version of this article appears in the December 23, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!