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Creating video for children? Don’t put it on YouTube

Kids watching television - mental imprintingIf you’re at all like billions of other people on this planet you’ve watched videos on YouTube. If you have, you might agree with the title of this blog with no further explanation. But I will explain because this topic is not only personal to me, it’s important for anyone with young children.

In case you didn’t know, YouTube has very little in the way of parent controls. There is a “safety mode” you can turn on that blocks comments that could be objectionable as well as videos that have been flagged as inappropriate. But that’s about it. If you search their help files for anything else you’ll find a page offering some advice on how to monitor your “teen” and how to talk about video selection with them. That’s all useful. But here are the problems.

Since you have to be 13 to create an account, their parental suggestions are all geared toward discussing content with kids over that age. But kids of all ages watch videos, usually on their parent’s accounts. For those younger children, talking about the videos is often not enough because they are just too young to understand. Or they are not as savvy as teenagers and can accidentally end up with videos they shouldn’t.

Which leads to the next issue. YouTube relys on the community, or the video creator, to say whether videos are appropriate or not. Creators have to check a box when they upload to say that it isn’t child friendly. If the box isn’t checked then they assume it is child friendly. And with a community as large and varied as YouTube, you’ll never get agreement over what is “inappropriate”. For instance, I’ve watched some videos with my son that were perfectly fine only to come back a week later and find they’d been flagged as inappropriate. I’ve also found comments that I considered highly inappropriate on a child appropriate video yet they were not yet blocked. The whole experience is inconsistent.

The biggest issue I have with it though, is you can never be sure about what kinds of videos you’ll see. Here I’ll offer a personal example. My son loves Minecraft. He watches all sorts of videos about it and has learned a lot about playing the game. I monitor what he does by keeping track of his history and talking with him. But I can’t be there all the time. So one night he was watching some Mom-approved Minecraft videos before going to bed when he saw a “suggested” video for another game. Being a carefree 9 year old boy he clicked on it. And his life hasn’t been the same since.

It turns out that other video was a walkthrough of a horror game with a very innocuous and fun title. He had no idea what he was getting himself into. A month later and he still sleeps with the lights on, refuses to close the shower door all the way and won’t stay alone in a room any time even during the day. And he can’t watch YouTube anymore unless I’m sitting there with him. I’ve blocked it on all devices he uses. Since this happened I’ve found many other parents who have done the same thing for their children. They all have similar stories.

To be honest, I’m sorry I had to block YouTube. There is so much on there that is great content, even for kids. But without any kind of parental controls it’s really scary to let kids watch any of it, because they can see all of it. And I’m not suggesting YouTube become a content screener or censor either. But it would be nice to have more parental control tools built into the account settings.

And until they do, creators of videos aimed at children should reconsider posting to YouTube. There are so many other viable options including hosting on your own website using a service like PlanetStream. Or creating an app where only the videos you make (or approve) are available for little ones to see.

Being a parent in this age of video comes with its own challenges. It’s a balancing act between too much and maybe none at all. What do you think?

Oliver Burt

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