YouTube Is Top Kid Destination; How To Enjoy It Safely

Piano-playing kittens. Laughing babies. Music and dance videos. A rap song about the Large Hadron Collider. Instructions on how to fold a shirt, braid bread or put on makeup. It's incredible what you can find and enjoy online at YouTube.com.

No wonder YouTube is the third most visited website, just after Google and Yahoo. Unlike many websites where people come, read an article for 2 minutes and move on, visitors to YouTube stay for an average of 22 minutes apiece. The audience for the site tends to skew younger and with higher education than the average web user. From our own OnlineFamily.Norton data, we can review what our kids are actively searching for on sites like Yahoo, Google, Craigslist, EBay and so on. YouTube is the top search entry and includes variants like " youtube"; "you tube"; "youtube.com" and even "utube".

Anecdotally, when I visit elementary schools and interview the children, YouTube is often the first site mentioned among favorite sites for all ages, even as young as kindergartners. So you should know what our children are looking for on YouTube and what dangers might exist there for the unwitting visitor.

Currently one of the most popular video series features a fictional character known as "Fred". In fact searches for "fred" are #12 in the most common search terms used by children monitored by OnlineFamily.Norton.  Here's a link to his dedicated YouTube channel where his fans have watched his videos an estimated 55 million times.There are many other channels on YouTube where Fred videos can be found as well. 

If you visit the main YouTube.com site, click on "Videos", then select "Most Viewed" and "All Time", you'll see that most of what people will find entertaining is mainstream comedy, music and unique family videos. I am more concerned about what happens once you click on an individual video and are taken to the page hosting that single video clip. For example, I clicked to view one of the most popular videos of all times, featuring Disney's High School Musical's Vanessa Hudgens.  The video is running on a page created by her record label and has a high quality MTV-style format.  After viewing this video 63 million times,  83,000 people have added their comments to the page. Among those comments are vulgarities, profanities, marketing information and links to supposedly nude photos of the actress/singer  that most parents would rather their younger children didn't see. Can you screen out comments from your child's view? Not an option. You can tag comments as "spam" or rate them with thumb's up and thumb's down symbols.  And if you own the video where the objectionable comments are posted , you can remove the comment and block the poster.

You might wonder why YouTube doesn't do more to screen each video to prevent the "bad" stuff from ever getting posted. The site is so popular that 20 hours worth of new video is posted every minute. There would need to be a dedicated team of many thousands of people screening to keep up with the volume. So the community at large ends up serving as the eyes of what is right and wrong for the site. Recently a team of hackers flooded YouTube with porn content that was hidden as innocently titled videos. Much of the adult material was embedded in the middle of clean video content, demonstrating the difficulty of finding the bad stuff until someone has watched it all the way through. 

Here's a page with a video on Community Guidelines for YouTube along with flagging guidelines for inappropriate content (videos, not comments). Any user with an account can flag as inappropriate a video that includes violent, sexual, or hate promoting content.  Please note, YouTube states in their Terms of Service that the site is intended for users over the age of 13 but there is absolutely no way for them to police adherence to that policy.

Parents have been concerned about what their children are viewing on YouTube and for this reason a small market has cropped up of software intended to filter the videos a child might see. Examples include KideoPlayer which has a special selection of YouTube videos in a player format that is easy for a young child to use; or Totlol.com, a site showing selected and child friendly videos pulled directly from YouTube. Those are great for a very young child but once your child enters their local elementary school, they'll soon hear the siren song of YouTube.com from every schoolmate and even the computer resource teacher. Teachers are often the shepherds who guide children to using the site to view wonderful educational videos found there. Demonstrations of math problem solving; science experiments, dance routines and historical speeches can all be found in thrilling visual detail on YouTube and it's a shame for a child to miss out.

Risk zones on YouTube (or any video sharing site):

  1. Inappropriate, adult or offensive video content
  2. Mislabeled, mistagged or misleading video content
  3. Offensive, vulgar, sexual content in advertising
  4. Comments containing vulgarity, hateful or objectionable language
  5. Links in comments to adult or other problematic sites
  6. Suggested material with no relationship to viewed material

Suggested best practices for enjoying YouTube (or any video sharing site):

  1. Create an account and preselect videos to put in your Favorites for your child to view later.
  2. Show your pre-selected videos to young children in full screen mode to avoid advertising and comments from being viewed.
  3. Create an account for your child using the correct age (over 13 and under 18 years of age) to prevent adult material from being accessed. Make sure you retain the password for the account.
  4. Use a family safety service like OnlineFamily.Norton so you can review the videos your children are searching for and watching on the site.
  5. If your under 13-year old child is on YouTube and created an account or if any under-18 year old child created an account without your permission, you can get the account removed by faxing a request to YouTube:  YouTube LLC.;Attention: YouTube User Support; 901 Cherry Ave. ;Second Floor ;San Bruno, CA 94066 ; USA;  Fax: 650.872.8513
  6. And, if things get dire, you can block YouTube.com entirely via the OnlineFamily.Norton service. I don't recommend that since having a situation where your children view content you don't approve of is what we call a "teachable moment"; an opportunity to explain your parent and adult view of the experience and do a re-set for your family's online House Rules.  Mistakes will occur for any online user. Allow your child a chance to make a few mistakes and try to understand their intentions. If you find that your child is purposely seeking out the wrong stuff on YouTube, sit down for a talk to see if you can't correct their behavior with appropriate consequences. And then, if the situation remains serious or worsens, you can always block the site entirely.