What Kids Are Really Watching on YouTube

Parents may worry about YouTube's age-inappropriate content, but mostly what kids love to watch is fine (if a little weird). By Caroline Knorr
What Kids Are Really Watching on YouTube

Kids love YouTube. And while there are hundreds of great kids' channels on YouTube (and on YouTube Kids), we all know that there's a lot of age-inappropriate stuff, including ads, salty language, and even sex and violence. But when you look at what kids are actively seeking out, a lot of it is funny, informative, and entertaining. And plenty of it is just plain weird. When you're aware of what kids are watching on YouTube  you can step in to help them separate the good stuff from the not-so-great.

So, what's on kids' YouTube lists? "Unboxing" videos (where people open products), "challenges" (such as trying hot peppers), "morning routines" (which show how YouTubers get ready for the day), silly skits, and even educational material (what??). These and other unusual things -- and the people behind them -- are YouTube phenomena. While kids also like to check out the latest eyebrow-raising music videos by Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Justin Bieber, it's the unscripted, unpolished, authentic content that they really love.

This guide may not bring you any closer to understanding the appeal of watching, say, someone open a Kinder Surprise Egg (one of the most popular kinds of videos on YouTube), but it may give you some fodder for conversation. And in a world where kids can be entertained at the touch of a button, that's sometimes the best way to get a taste of their world.

Let's Play
By far, the most popular gaming videos on YouTube are "Let's Plays" -- basically, live narration by gamers while they're playing games. Gaming videos got so popular, YouTube split them off into their own section called YouTube Gaming. Age-inappropriate content and language are an issue on all of these:

  • PewDiePie. Controversy surrounding this Swedish YouTube star has not diminished his popularity. His real-time game commentary and other videos done in a signature silly style make PewDiePie one of the most highly subscribed channels on YouTube. He has parlayed his fame into an app, a book, and a Web series. However, in 2017, his Disney-owned studio dropped him for posting anti-Semitic videos and imagery.  
  • Rooster Teeth. In addition to Let's Play videos, this production team creates Web series, live-action shorts, and a news and entertainment podcast. Topics and language are not always age-appropriate.
  • Smosh Games. This is a team of gamers who create mostly game and entertainment-related videos, including Let's Plays, reviews, and skits. Language and content may not be age-appropriate.
  • Markiplier. Entertaining Let's Plays, reviews, skits, highlight reels, and more make Markiplier super popular.

Thousands and thousands of Minecraft videos on Youtube -- including Minecraft Let's Plays, Minecraft tutorials, even Minecraft music videos -- can keep kids entertained for hours (as you've probably noticed). Many Minecraft YouTube videos are geared for older players, and they're filled with strong language, but there are plenty of age-appropriate channels, too. These are some of the most popular:

  • TheDiamondMinecart. The videos' quality across all genres (Let's Play, mod reviews, characters, and so on) has made it one of the most highly subscribed-to and most highly viewed channels on YouTube.
  • PopularMMOs. Although it's known for epic battles and massive explosions, PopularMMOs' host is a friendly, folksy guy named Pat, whose knowledge of and enthusiasm for the MMO game genre plus killer mods draw big audiences.
  • CaptainSparklez. Recently purchased by Disney-owned Maker Studios, CaptainSparklez is beloved as much for his intricate, atmospheric, and complex worlds as for his parody videos.
  • StampyLonghead. A British cartoon cat (voiced by Joseph Garrett from Portsmouth, England) hosts the lively videos on this lighthearted channel.

Turns out, kids love watching people open stuff -- including toys, gadgets, and the Italian treat called Kinder Surprise Eggs. Unboxing has become so popular that a whole cottage industry of unboxing "fails" and spoofs (such as Weird Al unboxing his Grammy Award) has emerged. The main issue with these videos is that it's unclear whether companies pay YouTubers to unbox their products (some do, some don't). 

  • FunToyzcollector. Kid-friendly videos of a person (you never see a face, just a well-manicured hand) opening and playing with Play-Doh, Disney Princess dolls, Polly Pockets, Peppa Pig, and lots more have made this channel one of the most popular and lucrative on YouTube.
  • Ryan's Toys Review. The videos of Ryan playing with cars, trucks, superheroes, surprise eggs, and Play-Doh draw more than 6 million subscribers. Ryan and Evan (below) are some of the most popular kids on YouTube.
  • EvanTube HD. Ten-year-old Evan's unboxing videos include Legos, Kinder Eggs, and lots of other toys. He also has other channels in which his family appears.
  • Surprise Eggs Unboxing Toys. In addition to unboxing videos of Kinder Eggs, this channel creates Play-Doh Claymations, stop-motion videos, and clips of bath balls dissolving in water. (You read that correctly.)
  • Lamarr Wilson. A former educator and technology consultant, Wilson uses his engaging personality to entertain families with taste tests, skits, and awkward questions. He's most famous for his unboxing videos of totally random stuff such as gummy worms, amiibos, and Loot Crates (mail-order collections of toys and games).

YouTube challenges have become a genre unto themselves. Some of them are risky, such as the duct-tape challenge and the cinnamon challenge. These YouTubers regularly film themselves taking some of the less-risky challenges (such as eating food while blindfolded).

  • Rosanna Pansino. This bubbly baker's YouTube show Nerdy Nummies (think: pizza cake) is so popular, Pansino got a cookbook deal out of it. She often attempts cooking-related challenges such as using someone else's arms to decorate a cake.
  • SevenSuperGirls. Billing themselves as the largest all-girl collaboration on YouTube, the ladies of SevenSuperGirls are actually unrelated YouTubers who share a channel and trade off posting. They love taking challenges, such as the Tin Can Challenge where they sample food from unmarked cans.  
  • Shane Dawson. This YouTube veteran is famous for his colorful characters, outrageous songs, edgy videos, and funny first-person vlogs. He frequently appears on others' YouTube channels to take challenges (such as the one on Trying Mexican Candy with Miranda Sings, another popular YouTuber). Language and content can be an issue.
  • Joey Graceffa. A budding musician, actor, filmmaker, and gamer, Graceffa is also an active vlogger who loves taking challenges, including Tasting Weird Goldfish Flavors. Language and content can be an issue.

Makeup and Fashion
The makeup and fashion category is bursting with talented, versatile hosts who make skits, explain their morning routines, and share advice. The downside with this category is that the videos can present impossibly idealized images of what a young girls' life should look like (complete with impeccably lighted bedrooms and perfectly matched bedding), and many of the videos push products (some of which are given to the vlogger for promotion). On the plus side, lots of these videos also offer DIY and crafting ideas and spoofs of their own content. Discover more popular YouTube beauty vloggers.

  • My Life as Eva. This California college student has become a full-fledged lifestyle guru, offering tips on everything from packing for a trip to rocking a fur jacket. She also models for Kohl's.
  • Niki and Gabi. Beautiful, smart, savvy identical twins Niki and Gabi make cool style seem effortless with their polished videos that include ideas for an easy "morning routine," DIY Halloween costumes, and photo ideas.
  • Rclbeauty101. Rachel Claire Levin is the 20-something brunette behind this channel that features insider beauty tips, lifestyle advice, funny skits, and more.
  • CutiePieMarzia. Kids know Italian beauty Marzia Bisognin as PewDiePie's gamer girlfriend, but she's a vlogger in her own right, specializing in makeup, "haul" videos (where she shows viewers what she's bought), cooking, and more.
  • Bethany Mota. A young YouTube pioneer, Mota vlogs on fashion, beauty, shopping, and DIY tips. She achieved mainstream fame and fortune by appearing on Dancing with the Stars and by creating a line of clothes for Aeropostale.

Funny Stuff
What passes for funny on YouTube may not be your cup of tea, but somehow the folks below have hit upon formulas that draw millions of viewers. Language and content can be an issue on many of these channels.

  • NigaHiga. Higa loves creating parodies of movies, ads, and songs, and he has a strong bent for personal confession and articulate tirades on topical subjects.
  • Smosh. These 20-somethings perform silly skits, funny songs, and pranks. The comedy isn't necessarily highbrow (and they bleep swear words), but it's mostly harmless.
  • Good Mythical Morning. With their friendly banter, silly skits, and amusing challenges, the two male hosts of this show (Rhett and Link) entertain without being edgy.
  • The Fine Brothers. Brothers Benny and Rafi started with "React" videos (showing kids, teens, senior citizens, and other groups watching and commenting on YouTube videos). These videos are great tools for teaching kids to be critical of media. Many of the Web series and other videos produced by the Fine Brothers -- while funny and creative -- are not necessarily age-appropriate.

YouTube offers kids an excellent opportunity to pursue learning on their own. Kids often learn better by seeing concepts presented visually, and video provides the perfect medium to explain everything from algebra to the number 0.

  • Vsauce. Host Michael Stevens tackles a wide range of subjects from the psychological (how humans make decisions) to the scientific ("What if the earth stopped spinning?"). His good humor, perfect editing, and clear explanations make his topics accessible and entertaining.
  • Minutephysics. Minutephysics breaks down complex concepts -- for example, the shape of the solar system -- making them easy to grasp for kids. Childlike, hand-drawn animations and simple but humorous voice-over accompanies every less-than-five-minute lesson.
  • SciShow. Various hosts take turns discussing scientific subjects in an engaging, anything-goes format. Colorful animation helps make the topics super kid-friendly.
  • Khan Academy. In its effort to provide "a world-class education for anyone, anywhere," Khan Academy offers a huge array of tutorials for the curious (and for those needing help on homework!). Heavy on the math and science explanations, Khan Academy also offers lessons on religion, art history, and test prep.

About Caroline Knorr

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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 (32)

Kid, 10 years old

back when this blog was made, kinder eggs were illegal but I have seen videos on them. also, if I am correct kinder eggs are legal and are coming in 2018 and the ones coming to the US are kinder joy not kinder surprise
Teen, 14 years old written by youtuber616

I watch things such as… Colleen Ballinger (aka. Miranda Sings), Rosanna Pansino, on occasions PopularMMOs, and more. I'm really into baking, cooking, comedy, and vlogging on youtube, I'm not that much into gaming, idk why, but whatever.
Teen, 13 years old written by Vadym20033

Honestly, parents who are trying to stop kids from watching,people like Jacksepticeye and markiplier are wasting their time. From 5th through 7th grade, I have seen kids who don't watch YouTube at all, start cursing and other kids learning from them to the point that even 1st graders curse. In the modern age, it is impossible to keep kids away from curse words. You all think people like Jacksepticeye or markiplier are just more youtubers who curse. You are missing the point, if you heard them curse doesn't mean they're all about that. Jack is one of the nicest and most warm hearted human on earth. His rage comes from gaming, just like every other gamers, and mostly used for fun. He has the best community on YouTube. DanTDM's or Denis's community always argue, curse, and even threaten each other. Pewdiepie just got corrupted over the years, you parents do not realize, but being a youtuber is harder than your jobs. In the first few years, you have to make at least 2 videos a day, and most started out by making 4 20 minute long videos a day, and would not earn money until the get millions of subscribers, which none of them even imagined getting a thousand. Unlike the "kid friendly" youtubers who think they got famous by granted, jack, mark, pewds, and a lot more, make thank you videos every time they reach a small milestone until the subscribers are just too big, and they have to do it rarer. But they still try to say thank you and help their subs in every video. You should search up Jacksepticeye panel pax east 2017 and see how much he cares about everyone, you could even see that in most of his blogs and let's play videos. My cousin has been exposed to curse words in kindergarten, and I think he's too young for them. But he didn't learn it from youtube, he learned it from fellow kindergarteners. If you actually taught your kids what words to never use in their life, they would never get curious enough to use them, and most adults don't think their cute little baby would do that until it's to late to change anything. I hate cursing, but I don't care if youtubers or friends curse, just teach kid s to ignore it, the only issue is you parents being too lazy to teach kids. My mother wasn't lazy to stay with us and teach us everything, and to not curse, and we grew up fine.
Teen, 14 years old written by slick_fox

the most innapropriate youtubers for kids: pewdiepie markiplier jackspeticeye smosh buzzfeed and some VEVO channels for little kids: fgteev (and their second channel is FUNNel vision) cookieswirlc, ethangamertv, disneycartoys, finger families for kids: stampy (newer videos only, he cuss in the VERY old ones), iballisticsquid, cupquake (I think she uses mild swears and i think she said drunk once) family fun pack, squaishy, thinknoodles, sketch, alex and dennis are all roblox players, ethangamingtv is also a roblox player, I love veturiantale but they play gmod which has shooting and blood but don't say innapropriate things, for girls check out superseven channels, for animal jam check out wisteria moon! and don't forget guava juice. I personally watch cartoon videos, but there isn't a lot of famous cartoon youtubers, check out channelfederator, he makes cartoon theories and makes series like bee and puppy cat btw rebel taxi makes podcats and swears. and lew toons cusses. and finally, I just have to warn you guys, crashcourse swears! I know this because we were watching it at school and he yelled out "bad a word. " so just be aware teachers if you will play it at school, but im not surprised my school did it because we watch videos with cussing all the time at school for EDUCATION. I like don't hug me im scared but there is a ton of gore and horror. so just watch out of who you see on youtube! thanks for watching :D
Teen, 13 years old written by FanKid

I am 13 and don't enjoy watching YTers that cuss or say sexual things. I just want to watch someone be funny or sing good. My favorite gamer is a really small channel but is getting bigger and gaining more subs so I hope he will be one of the most known one day because he deserves it! He also has a comedy channel that is completely clean and funny! All his content on all of his channels is clean and he is really nice in his coments. You would not have to worry about kids watching his channel at all. His name is Kai Kay search him and I like Niga Higa too but he does do more mature content sometimes but is still okay. I am a boy but girls will probably like him too but I dunno cause I am a boy.
Kid, 12 years old

So parents maybe cool it a little. If your kid watches someone, Like Markiplier, he swears and stuff, but so do people in the real world. If your kid overhears someone saying a cuss word they might think it's OK and say it. But if you let them watch that type of stuff and explain that there are words you should and should not use, they'll be fine. And maybe watch a few videos with then and maybe get into a litte
Adult written by JADEGSX

Problem is 6 year olds do not usually see or hear sexual content. Problem is you can accidentally come by inappropriate music videos or videos are weird sex acts etc on YouTube. Yes young kids may hear swear words but doesnt mean they need to watch videos online with alot of swearing.
Teen, 14 years old written by irock4everlykhell

It is IMPOSSIBLE to save children from swearwords or sexual references by youtubers. Almost each of them makes some and you will probably find some in the comments' section.
Teen, 15 years old written by CGcapitol

I honestly think parents complaining about youtubers cussing and making sexual references is ridiculous considering everyone cusses and make sexual references. Maybe not often but everyone's done it before. So what if Pewdiepie said the f-word, so what if leafy made a sexual reference. Does it really matter? As long as your kid doesn't use the language out loud it's fine for them to watch that content. Parents need to stop helicoptering over their children and realize that their kids can watch whatever they want as long as it isn't to extreme such as being rated 18 or older. I hope people realize soon that kids are like mini adults and should be able to browse the Internet without they're parent looking over their shoulder all the time.
Parent of a 7 and 9 year old written by tsteele93

CGcapitol, here are the problems from a parent's point of view. First, my children are much younger than you are. They were on YouTube from the age of 6 years old, with parental supervision. But it was very frustrating that there were no easy ways to filter the videos so that we could know that our children were getting age-appropriate material. Second, no matter what age you are, the more you are exposed to that kind of language, the more likely you are to repeat it. That may not matter to you, or your parents. But for many of us, it does. I wish that I had never picked up the bad habit of using "curse words." It sounds tacky, it makes a person sound uneducated and lacking in self-control in most instances. So I wish that I hadn't picked it up, I work daily to try and break the habit and I SURE don't want my kids picking it up from youtubers. Third, If you look at youtubers who carefully choose to tailor their content so that parents with younger children can let them watch safely, like DAN TDM, are doing very well with that model. So it pays to be clean... I know at 15 I also thought that I knew everything my parents and other parents were doing wrong. But I strongly suspect when you are 25-30 and have your own children and face the responsibility of raising them up to be responsible citizens you will see things very differently.
Parent of a 7 and 8 year old written by tsteele93

PewDiePie is not welcome in our house... Just wanted it add this after reading the other comments. My son is the primary consumer of video, and we have a laptop. He basically has to watch videos with us in the same room. I don't watch over his shoulder, in fact he is watching videos right now while I write this... I came here to find out more about Roblox, which has gotten his attention away from Minecraft, Terraria and Scrap Mechanic recently. Anyway, my point is that right now we are always pretty much around while he is consuming internet of any sort. We don't get on with him per se, but we are able to keep up with what he is doing pretty well this way. As always, I say "Ruin your kids your way and I'll ruin my kids my way..."
Parent of a 7 and 8 year old written by tsteele93

This is really good. It would be great if we could get info on which ones are more age-appropriate for younger children. Dan TDM has been a huge benefit to our household, as well as Stamply Longnose. We had to ditch Log dot Zip though. He went over to the dark side.
Teen, 13 years old written by DisneyMagic

This list certainly does scratch the surface of what kids and teenagers tend to watch on youtube, but it doesn't delve into what's concerning, likely because parents tend to ignore it. Almost all these channels became popular over 2 years ago. I will personally admit that I've succumbed to the entertaining yet bothersome nature of cringe compilations. :c
Kid, 12 years old

Even more cancerous is the recent uprise of commentary channels. These usually consist of a person playing Call of Duty or CS:GO saying some pretty bad things. Drugs, language, and sex are usually all a big problem in these. I've found the most popular is LeafyIsHere. Every one of his videos must involve strong swearing, drugs, and sex. I would recommend not to let children watch this guy. Generally, we can all say be wary of what your kid is watching because kid-friendliness is becoming an issue everyday, to the point where 11 year old girls are uploading videos that are pretty much the same thing as Leafy. (I'm looking at YOU LtCorbis)
Teen, 15 years old written by CGcapitol

Leafy isn't that bad, your kid will probably not even know what he's talking about or will and won't use the language in public.
Adult written by mergie

The really strong stuff gets Age-Restricted and you need to have an account plus be 20+ in age. But that is for the REALLY strong stuff.
Kid, 12 years old

I don't watch any of them. The closest one is Jacksepticeye. The main channels I watch is The AmazingAtheist, MrRepzion, GradeAUnderA, I Hate Everything, and Yandere Dev. Don't even mention the Fine Bros.
Parent of a 7 year old written by mnm4242

Thanks for giving an extensive list as to what kids do on YouTube! I was really curious. My daughter is only 7 and doesn't watch YouTube now. I was wondering what all the fuss was about. I hear some kids are watching it all the time.
Adult written by nduns

Well, I'd love to recommend the Fine Brothers if it weren't for the fact that they recently pulled a really stupid stunt by trying to copyright the word 'React'. I'm not even kidding. They actually tried to make it so they themselves own the word 'React' so anyone who puts the word 'React' in their video would either have to pay them to use it or have it taken down. Granted, they canned the idea when they got a ton of backlash for it, but honestly, I'm amazed by the fact that people's reactions to this shocked them. I just can't get behind people full of themselves to the point where they think they can claim ownership of a word that's been used for ages. As for Pewdiepie, all he does in his videos is scream and say the same things in all of his horror LPs. I can't really recommend him either.
Teen, 13 years old written by Gamestr

you should add that there are "groups" in Youtube, what i mean by this is that certain people do videos or LP (lets play) together and while others sometimes come together to do a special video with some of the most random people in the Youtube world. I do watch Youtube a lot and I do know my limits on who to watch, and if your wondering who i watch, i watch Vintagebeef, Pauseunpause, Guudeboulderfist, Skyzm, Pungence, Toasted baby, and GMM( Good Mythical Morning, they are all good youtubers, some are for older watchers but other are fine for younger viewers
Teen, 15 years old written by helloitsme1234

Um.... That's okay but the thing is that Pewdiepie uses strong language and so does Markiplier. I am not telling that they're bad, They're one of my favorite youtubers, but these 2 channels are PG-13. But yeah, Mature kids can watch it.
Parent of a 10 and 11 year old written by maddox121

Forgot about Stampy, again: His early episodes are more PG-13 then late became PG, G in later years.
Adult written by sueallen

Music Parodies by KfaceTV are kid-friendly versions of music that may not be appropriate for children in the original. Check out "Talk Nerdy to Me" [from Talk Dirty to Me] and "Dark Lord Funk" [Harry Potter version of Uptown Funk.]