Making Sense

Parents' Guide to YouTube

Our tips can help you find the good stuff -- and minimize what's iffy.
Caroline Knorr Parenting Editor | Mom of one Categories: Ask our parenting editor
Parenting Editor | Mom of one

Wondering if you can make YouTube more kid-friendly? Learn how to:

  • find good stuff on YouTube

  • create customized video playlists

  • talk to your kids about iffy content

  • help your teen post responsibly

All about YouTube

Funny, crazy, silly, sweet, ugly, scary, inspiring. YouTube is all of this -- often at the same time! But while YouTube is one of the most popular websites for kids, it's a challenge for many parents to keep kids from seeing the site's age-inappropriate stuff.

There's no question that YouTube has had a huge impact on the world. But to get the most out of the site -- and use it age-appropriately -- kids still need parental oversight.

Here are answers to parents' most common questions about how to use YouTube safely -- plus tips and tricks to make the site a fun and educational part of your kid's life.

Does YouTube rate its videos?

No. The only way to determine whether a YouTube video is age appropriate is to watch it. But certain channels, like Family and Science & Education, offer collections of kid-friendly fare from the likes of Sesame Street and Yo Gabba Gabba to Make Magazine.

Can I block comments, user names, and iffy videos?

You can't block them entirely, but you can reduce them. Scroll down to the bottom of any YouTube page, and click on the word "Safety." Then click "On." Safety mode filters most -- but not all -- potentially objectionable YouTube content -- including comments. It's not 100% perfect, and it's not a password-protected setting, but it helps.

How can I find educational videos?

YouTube is full of educational videos, but there's often a minefield of age-inappropriate stuff to navigate. Visit YouTube EDU for excellent resources starting at the preschool level and minimal iffy stuff. (YouTube also offers a closed Education portal with no iffy stuff just for schools.)

Is there any way to make YouTube more kid friendly?

To make YouTube more kid friendly, you'll need a YouTube account and some time to sleuth out the good stuff -- but it's worth the effort.

  • Log in, and search around for videos your kids will like.
  • Click "Add to" (under each video) to include the videos in your "favorites" or "playlist."
  • If you really like a video, consider subscribing to the owner's channel.
  • When your kids log in, all they need to do is click your user name to find all of the videos you've saved for them.
  • Bookmark your saved pages to make it even easier for your kids to go directly to your choices.

Should I worry about what my kids will see on their friends' mobile devices?

It's nearly impossible to prevent your kids from seeing age-inappropriate stuff on their friends' devices or at their friends' houses. Set some rules (for example, that the playground and play dates are for playing, not watching videos). Beyond that, talk to them about what they've watched, and discuss it with them.

My kid is always begging to see a new video. Should I let her?

When videos "go viral," it seems like everyone is suddenly talking about the kitten that stood up to the Doberman Pinscher, or whether Kony 2012 is authentic. Realistically, you can't always preview material in advance to determine whether it's appropriate. But if you watch with your kid, you can pause or stop the video, plus you'll be able to have a much more open and informed discussion about anything that comes up.

How do I find good videos on YouTube?

It might take you a few tries to find stuff you really like -- and that your kids want to watch, too. But they'll most likely appreciate your efforts to delve deeper into the site. Start with the channels that tend to have very little iffy stuff: Top YouTube Collections, Causes & Non-Profits, How-To & DIY, Family, and Education.

What does it mean when a video gets a certain number of views, "likes," and "dislikes?"

The number of views a video gets, as well as the number of likes and dislikes, aren't necessarily indications of quality. (Just take a look a look at how many views the latest Annoying Orange video has!) "Likes" and "Dislikes" can be clicked by any registered user for any reason, so the value of these stats is questionable. The number of views is interesting, but lots of great videos aren't necessarily popular.

Are there any good video sites designed just for little kids?

Yes! Kideos, Zui, and AOL Kids all offer kid-friendly fare designed for kids 5-through 10. And the best part is that each of these sites is designed to look cool -- so kids won't feel like they're being sent to the baby corner.

Should I let my kids post on YouTube?

If they're at least 13, they meet YouTube's age minimum. But whether you're OK with it depends on your comfort level -- and your teens' ability to manage their safety and privacy.

  • Make sure they know the safety rules. Tell your kids to protect their identities. No-nos for videos include images of license plate numbers, your house, their bedrooms, and their school. And make sure that none of their "tags" (search identifiers) reveal their real names, locations, schools, or anything else that could lead people to your door.
  • Watch their videos. If you allow your kids to post, tell them you want to check out their videos before they're posted. Remind your kids that YouTube has millions of viewers all over the world, so you never know who'll be watching.
  • Be aware of privacy concerns. Tell your kids to mark their videos as "private" so that only friends can watch them.
  • Check in. Forbidding teens to post may force them underground. You want to make sure your kids feel comfortable coming to you if something or someone on the site bothers them. Talk to them about the comments their videos received --  how did they feel after reading them? YouTube can be a great place for teens to express their creativity -- just help them channel their creative energy positively.

Common Sense Tips and Tricks

  • Stick with YouTube's Family Channel. With videos from PBS, Yo Gabba Gabba, ABC Family, and other kid-friendly sources, this is the most reliably age-appropriate channel on YouTube.
  • Register for an account. Registering for your own account (called a channel) is the only way to exert some control over what your kids watch on YouTube. You can add videos to a playlist, save videos to watch later, mark "favorites," and subscribe to channels you like. Your kids can log in, click on your user name, and choose Video Manager to see your pre-selected videos. (If you bookmark this page, your kids can bypass YouTube's regular homepage.)
  • Get creative. YouTube offers free video-editing tools to registered users that let you add effects to your own videos, tell stories, create animations, and much, much more. You can use stock videos or your own footage. Kids can learn the kinds of skills that the pros use -- for free!
  • Experiment. Click on "Try Something New" at the bottom of any YouTube page, and check out the new features that the site is testing. Best for teens, these tools offer a glimpse into how websites develop new concepts.
Got a question about YouTube? Post it here!

About Caroline Knorr

As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for... Read more

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Comments (8)

I am fine with youtube. Warning: the f word is so common in youtube, it is kinda inappropiate. What i do is ignore it, tune out, and move on.
yeah, your right. youtube is scary. they show you these ppl poping up on your screen, it also happens on maze games. i never play maze games. i saw a monster pop up on my screen when i was playing on my fave online game Roblox. it was one of those horror games. it scared me a lot, i was crying. i wasnt too scared. i was mediume scared. i ran to dad, and he dint care! thats why i hate about my dad.
My kids are all the time in youtube and frankly, i rather that than having them like zombies in front of the t.v. But then again there´s some content on youtube that is quite strong for their age. Is there any way to restrict the type of videos that a certain user can see?
Check in. Forbidding teens to post may force them underground. You want to make sure your kids feel comfortable coming to you if something or someone on the site bothers them. Talk to them about the comments their videos received -- how did they feel after reading them? YouTube can be a great place for teens to express their creativity -- just help them channel their creative energy positively. Stick with YouTube's Family Channel. With videos from PBS, Yo Gabba Gabba, ABC Family, and other kid-friendly sources, this is the most reliably age-appropriate channel on YouTube. Register for an account. Registering for your own account (called a channel) is the only way to exert some control over what your kids watch on YouTube. You can add videos to a playlist, save videos to watch later, mark "favorites," and subscribe to channels you like. Your kids can log in, click on your user name, and choose Video Manager to see your pre-selected videos. (If you bookmark this page, your kids can bypass YouTube's regular homepage.) Get creative. YouTube offers free video-editing tools to registered users that let you add effects to your own videos, tell stories, create animations, and much, much more. You can use stock videos or your own footage. Kids can learn the kinds of skills that the pros use -- for free! Experiment. Click on "Try Something New" at the bottom of any YouTube page, and check out the new features that the site is testing. Best for teens, these tools offer a glimpse into how websites develop new concepts.
You know there's a way to disable comments? When uploading your video, go to advanced settings, disable comments. My dad taught me how to do it. I'm not old enough to have my own Youtube account, so my dad helps me upload videos on his account.