Is YouTube Kids Right for Your Children?

How safe is safe?

Girl watching cartoons on a tablet
Artur Debat / Getty Images

YouTube Kids is an app from Google (available on iOS, Android, and various smart TV services). It is designed to create a "sandbox" experience for kids' video viewing, giving them the freedom to explore without the dangers of the greater YouTube experience. It sounds great in theory, but in practice it's not quite that simple. Here's what you need to know about YouTube Kids.

Parents will start by entering a "parent's only area" that is accessed by typing in four numbers that are spelling out.

This is hardly going to provide a barrier to anyone after Kindergarten, so parents should make sure to login first and set a more secure passcode. Once there, they can set browsing limits, turn search on/off, turn off casting (the ability to broadcast content directly to certain Smart TVs and devices like TiVo, and a few other lesser settings. It's important to think carefully about what content you want your child to see and to set it conservatively for that content since YouTube Kids specifically states that they can't guarantee that inappropriate content won't get through. 

Moderations, Curation, and Smart Algorithms

YouTube Kids is not moderated content. In other words, there is no human being looking at each video to determine whether it's appropriate for children. YouTube Kids uses a proprietary algorithm to select which videos can be seen via the platform. It is automated. Parents (and kids) can flag content deemed inappropriate and someone from YouTube will look into it further.

The problem is that you need to be watching with your child to catch things which, for many, may defeat the purpose in the first place. 

Because content is either accessible from the sandbox or not, this presents a particular problem with young kids. What is appropriate for a 12 year old is not necessarily so for a preschooler.

And, let's face it, there are certain magical aspects of childhood that parents would like to preserve. For those little ones, there is some curated content. YouTube partners with various celebrities, including popular YouTube channels, to provide playlists. These are the best choices for young kids on the platform.

Anyone can post a video on YouTube and it may find its way to YouTube Kids. There is no way to request to have content included. YouTube has included a disclosure on the app to warn parents that they can't guarantee "safe" content, especially when the search feature is on.

Searching

YouTube Kids includes a search feature that can be disabled in the parental controls The content served is still from the YouTube Kids collection and there are filters in place to prevent kids from searching for content that could be deemed inappropriate from the start. It blocked things like "Paris Bombing," "Isis," and "Sexting," topics that kids may hear adults discussing and become curious about. We were able to access President Obama's Last State of the Union Address, and a slew of Instagram-related tips and tutorials. Many of the videos that came up were in languages other than English.

Bottom Line

YouTube Kids is a great first step toward a safer YouTube platform.

It's perfect for finding content kids of all ages will want to watch all in one place. The parental controls are enough for people with very young children, but not quite there for those with late-elementary school kids and tweens. Yes, you can specify the age group, but without locking your kids into a very limited selection of video content, it's hard to exert any additional control. It's a good start, but we'd like to see a bit more.