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10 Steps to a Better YouTube

Potential legislation plus these steps can improve the YouTube experience for kids.

Kids under age 8 spend nearly 40 minutes a day watching TV and video on sites like YouTube. Our recent research revealed that 95% of early childhood videos contain advertising, and 30% feature some degree of physical violence. There are several concrete steps YouTube can take today to better protect kids. Plus, a promising piece of proposed legislation would ensure that quality children's programming is the standard.

  1. Move all child-directed content to YouTube Kids, which ensures that ads are age appropriate and gives parents more control over their kids' feeds.

  2. If child-directed content stays on YouTube, put limits on both ad frequency and the types of ads displayed alongside videos directed at children.

  3. Make ad-free versions of videos for young children without having to upgrade to YouTube premium, which could contribute to income-based inequities in child media quality.

  4. Set "off" as the default autoplay setting, limiting the temptation for extended (endless) watch sessions.

  5. Allow parents to easily turn off recommendations, or stop recommendations for children altogether.

  6. Limit the algorithmic amplification of misleading, dubious, or harmful videos.

  7. Develop a better system of vetting ads for age-appropriateness.

  8. Work with content creators to improve the quality of videos, and consider developing metrics for higher-quality content, role modeling, or diversity to elevate these videos.

  9. Redesign the user interface to empower kids to search for content from diverse creators with positive messages, plan out and set limits for themselves, or turn off recommendations (or understand why they get different video recommendations). The user interface should support a parent and kid in working together to set expectations about how YouTube will be used.

  10. Label high-quality content so parents and kids can easily find it, and/or elevate positive content in algorithms that determine children's recommendations.

YouTube is working on changes and they can innovate on solutions, but we're also pursuing legislation that would ensure every platform has the guardrails in place to support children's programming. The KIDS Act, currently under consideration in Congress, would curb the manipulative design features we identified in our research, while also calling for labeling of quality content, minimizing inappropriate ads and content, establishing grants for content creators as an alternative to ads for funding, and holding platforms accountable for harmful content aimed at children.

Jenny Radesky
Dr. Jenny Radesky is an assistant professor of developmental behavioral pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School. Her research interests include the use of mobile technology by parents and young children and how this relates to child self-regulation and parent-child interaction. She was lead author of the 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on digital media use in early childhood, and her most recent research explores manipulative design in apps aimed at kids 0–5.