A Parent's Ultimate Guide to YouTube

How to enjoy YouTube with your kids without feeling overwhelmed and confused.
Caroline Knorr Parenting Editor | Mom of one Categories: Screen Time
Parenting Editor | Mom of one

Smosh, Good Mythical Morning, PewDiePie -- the names may not mean much to you, but chances are your kids are on a first-name basis. Their funny hosts, off-the-cuff commentary, silly antics, and bewildering (to adults) subject matter put them among the most popular YouTube channels for young teens, garnering millions (and, in the case of game commentary PewDiePie, billions) of views. In fact, according to a recent survey of U.S. teens by Variety, the top five most influential celebrities are YouTube stars. But information about these personalities' shows -- the content, quality, and age-appropriateness, for example -- isn't easy for parents to find.

Until YouTube's app for kids really catches on with fans, the original YouTube poses a challenge for parents.  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. Still, there are clues to figuring out which channels and creators are OK for your kids. YouTube clearly has a huge impact, and you'll learn a lot about your kids when you really dig into what they're tuning into. (Here's a rundown of some of the most popular YouTube stars.)

And it's worth doing. Kids love discovering new videos on YouTube, and that often means exposure to iffy stuff -- even when they're not seeking it out. With some simple tools, you can help your kids regulate their habits and increase the chances that their experience will be positive. Also, read our detailed review of YouTube.

The Basics

Watch with your kid. 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. Many kids naturally want to share the videos they like.

Watch by yourself. 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.

Be sleuthy. 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.

Subscribe. 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 My Subscriptions, 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.

The Nitty-Gritty

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. You might find out that your kid's favorite YouTube personality has an impressive reach. LGBTQ advocate Tyler Oakley, for example, has a huge fan base that crosses demographics, making him a positive role model for all kinds of kids.   

Look at the suggestions. 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.

Consider the ads. If an ad plays before the video, that's actually a good sign. To qualify for advertising and earn money (the goal of most YouTube channels), a creator must apply to be a YouTube partner by sending in some sample videos. YouTube rejects videos that don't meet their terms of service and community guidelines -- vulgar or stolen content, in other words. Yes, that means your kid sees more ads, but the trade-off seems worth it (and you can always mute the commercials).

Read the comments. 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. Channel creators can moderate their comments to reduce the amount of negativity. Well-groomed comments are a good sign.

Watch the trailer. Many creators make highlight reels and trailers -- basically video ads for the channels themselves (which usually appear first on the channel page). Definitely watch them if they're available to get an overview of the host and the content.

Finding Good Stuff

Turn on safety mode. Be aware that 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 Safety Mode that limits the iffy stuff. Simply scroll down to the bottom of any YouTube page. See where it says "Safety"? Click it on. (It will remain on for logged-in users on the same browser.)

Take YouTube's advice. 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. Visit YouTube Nation for curated content in a variety of categories. Read about YouTube news on the company blog, and find out what's trending all over the country on the Map and the Dashboard.

Watch later. 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 preapproved. 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.

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 (25)

Teen, 14 years old written by Kalynn

Wow, i'm glad my parents trust me and don't feel the need to do this stuff, it's not that i'm doing anything wrong or would mind if they did, i just prefer personal space and am happy with the fact that my parents trust me to do the right things and make the right decisions online, i'd rather not have my parents hovering over my shoulder 24/7.
Parent written by besttrend

There is a problem that I'm always facing when I want to watch or share a YouTube video with my kids, sometimes there are improper ads, irrelevant videos around my video and sometimes offensive comments, there is website that solved this issue: http://safeyoutube.net, it enables you to remove all ads, comments and other videos, you will just need to paste the YouTube video URL and click the "Generate Link" button, here is an example of a generated safe YouTube link: http://safeYouTube.net/w/b1k
Kid, 11 years old

Thinknoodles is a really good kid friendly youtuber to watch. He uploads almost every day and he has minions in his Think's lab series in a story/mod review.
Parent written by SCT123

My daughter loves this relatively new Youtube "unboxing" channel done by "Santa Claus" -- Santa Claus Toys. . https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvryr1fWy6m2f5a_StwndWA
Kid, 11 years old

There is a lot of good channels on youtube but some of the channels you have to be a little careful. Thinknoodles is a good choice because he has family friendly videos. The safety option on youtube doesn't work that good. It only blocks out videos that too many people flag. A lot of good channels get blocked out with the safety option enabled.
Adult written by DraggyBDragon

Hey! I actually have a YouTube Channel that is geared towards children and young-teens! Maybe you guys and your children would like it? https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClxMDq6zRlQWJZWz_RrQNPg Let me know what you think!
Kid, 11 years old

There are lots of youtube channels that are really good for learning. Gaijin Goombah is a great example because what he does is he analyzes culture in video games through episodes of Game Exchange.
Kid, 11 years old

I can't believe Common Sense leaves Thinknoodles out of the picture. Your kids like minions, stories, and Minecraft. There, you're done. No worries there; he releases videos very frequently.
Teen, 13 years old written by NinjaNate

This is very helpful now i can talk to my parents about watching YouTube. Also, I'm a PewDiePie fan too!
Adult written by otaku27

There are definitely lots of places where you can find child friendly video game content, one site I would definitely suggest checking out is www.gameru.com. They provide video tutorials for console and mobile games — a little something for everyone. But quality control & no vulgar/abusive language from their game experts sets them apart from all the others.
Kid, 12 years old

Youtube is something you should allow a boundary push on. The main thing about it that you will find is the cursing. I believe if you find about 50 fun channels that are mainly appropriate, then you can have fun with youtube without danger.
Kid, 10 years old

I find this interesting that im 10 and I love PewDiePie. What I find funny is my mum knows I love Pewds and she personally loves him too.
Educator and Parent written by ostaff1

I'd like suggestions for an iPad app alternative to YouTube, that I can set (or has pre-set) filters for the under-13 age group. Any suggestions?
Educator and Parent written by Gwenevieve

We have been using the app Video Monster and iTubeList. They are apps for the iPad and allow you to control what your children see from Youtube. Recently there have been some issues with Video Monster, it is free but not uploading Youtube videos well. The iTubelist app is working well. It just takes time to set up.
Educator and Parent of a 15 year old written by Caroline Knorr

Check out this list of YouTube alternatives! https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/youtube-alternatives
Educator and Parent of a 15 year old written by Caroline Knorr

Great idea! We will be publishing a feature about YouTube alternatives for kids. Please check back!
Adult written by UnmaskedHearts

I don't know if this works on an IPad but I did a quick Google search and found youtubeforchildren.com I'm assuming it's like YouTube but the results are 99% filtered for children.
Parent of a 6 and 8 year old written by tommiemommie

I would like to remind parents to check the comments that their children leave on videos. There's a video on how to do it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twcmbB00NJM. We run a children's channel and we have gotten very inappropriate comments from children using their parent's log in. We had a little girl who was leavy very hateful comments form her family's business accout. I Googled the business and called the family and notified them because I was concerned for their livelihood. Kids also have posted their phone numbers and addresses. I have a comment filter which catches most of them. I always delete them, but I try to reach out to mom and dad if the information went public and did not get caught by the filter because I believe they really need to know about this.
Educator and Parent of a 15 year old written by Caroline Knorr

That is an excellent suggestion. Sounds like you're doing your part to keep parents informed of what their kids are writing. It would be ideal if parents watched with their kids and posted constructive feedback together -- parents can really model good digital citizenship that way.
Parent written by benh1

For those younger children try www.sprogtube.com, a safe place for children to watch YouTube videos.
Educator and Parent of a 15 year old written by Caroline Knorr

Thank you! We are going to be doing a round-up of streaming video services just for kids. I think they are great and I advise parents to use them. Kids gravitate toward YouTube, but there are good, age-appropriate alternatives.