Why We Must Monitor What Our Children Watch on YouTube

To pacify a child nowadays, what do many people do? They place a phone or tablet device in the child’s rambunctious hands and walk away. Some install the YouTube Kids app. More on this below.

Welcome to the wonderful world of the iPad nanny.

This nanny, though, is no Mary Poppins. As a child swipes away on YouTube, flitting from show to show indiscriminately, they could easily be exposed to inappropriate material. The BBC recently warned that just as a child can jump from Peppa Pig to the Cookie Monster, they could be tricked into watching gory, disturbing content.

In a piece titled, “YouTube has a fake Peppa Pig problem,” journalist Laura June wrote about her unpleasant experience. The author explained that she had discovered her three-year-old daughter watching a gruesome parody of Peppa Pig being drugged by a sadistic dentist pulling out her teeth amidst loud screams. The site was styled after Peppa Pig but the content was far from cuddly, or appropriate.

What’s worse, after accidentally watching one of the parody clips, the related-videos algorithm will continuously recommend similar ones, putting your youngster at risk. It seems that the videos are solely profit-seeking, intended to generate thousands of views for advertisers in exchange for a bountiful sum.

“We work to make the videos in YouTube Kids as family-friendly as possible and take feedback very seriously. We appreciate people drawing problematic content to our attention, and make it easy for anyone to flag a video” - YouTube spokesperson

If at a glance something looks and sounds like Peppa Pig, can parents—or children—be blamed of irresponsibility given the blatant deception?

Well, you can’t blame YouTube. The site isn’t meant for children—not even a little bit. In this particular case, the onus of responsibility is on the parent. Leave your child with an iPad in hand at your own peril, even if you have the YouTube Kids app installed.

There are ways around the paltry of parental controls. Tools such as NetNanny are partially effective but will only block specific YouTube URLs or the YouTube.com homepage itself. I have this personally installed on my desktops and tablets. It’s not foolproof. One problem among many, is that there are easy side-door entries into specific YouTube URLs and crafty or explorative children can stumble back into YouTube via Google or a pre-saved Bookmark.

YouTube is not without security. You can set up filters and or put it in “restricted mode”, but they amount to little more than ineffective halfway houses, trapping some content yet failing to insulate unsuspecting children. Many people have setup such filters on their devices and tell me they are not that effective as the kids seem to often stumble onto crazy content. Clearly filters are no substitute for vigilant supervision.

A recommendation is to download the YouTube Kids App via the Apple Store or Google Play. This app however, is not available for desktops. If your kid is on YouTube on a desktop PC or MAC, be vigilant. Further, even on the tablets, the regular YouTube is accessible by just typing it into the URL despite having the YouTube Kids add installed. The app itself is also not immune to fake kids content (yet).

There are families that spend time together sharing digital norms and ethics. Their children learn how to responsibly evaluate content so as not to step into a minefield. I wonder if those kids are the ones who later go on to make a Fortune on YouTube? I believe that teaching digital hygiene can lead to a penchant for creative expression. That’s just me.

Whether it’s adult entertainment on the traditional television set, violent games on consoles with adult ratings, or videos on a mobile device, it’s time that we as parents take a more active role in choosing and monitoring the technology that fills our homes. The content providers have clearly offered us limited options. Not just YouTube, but even the music streaming services are not as kid friendly as we think and must be monitored.

Have you encountered problems with unsuitable footage online? How do you manage what your children do and do not see when using mobile devices?

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