Sometimes it's hard to understand why kids watch what they watch on YouTube (um, unboxing videos?), but kids can’t get enough of YouTube. A recent study by Common Sense Media, showed just how rapidly the popularity of online videos has soared among young people, trumping the time they spend watching TV, playing video games and using social media.
No doubt, there are educational and entertaining videos that are okay for kids on YouTube. Unfortunately, there are a ton of videos that are completely inappropriate adult content, sometimes violent, and certainly not something you would want your kids viewing.
Luckily, there are some steps you can take to control what your children see on YouTube. Below are the YouTube parental controls that you can set up to make YouTube a safer place for your kids.
Setting up Restricted Mode make take a bit of time and effort as you must do it not just for each computer or mobile device that they use to watch YouTube, but you must do it for each browser on each device as well. It’s worth it though.
Restricted Mode filters out content that is considered to be inappropriate for those under 18 years old. Content creators themselves can flag their content as “restricted” or YouTube can flag the content if it contains profanity, violence, nudity, dangerous activities or other more mature material. If Restricted Mode is on, your child won’t see those flagged videos at all. That doesn’t mean that some mature material won’t go unflagged, but it can help weed out a significant amount of it.
To turn on the Restricted Mode on a computer, open your child’s YouTube account, then click on their profile icon in the upper right-hand corner. Scroll down to the bottom of the menu and turn it on, then close the browser. That's all that's needed to set up YouTube parental controls at a basic level.
On a mobile device the process is similar, but you’ll have to tap Settings first to turn on the Restricted Mode. Rinse and repeat for each device and web browser your child uses to watch YouTube. (Be sure to include any phones the child has access to - you may also want to check out our guide on the safest first phones for kids, which all have good parental control options.)
YouTube Kids app
If you want to take an extra step, you can limit your child to YouTube Kids. It’s the YouTube app for both iPhone and Android devices that aims to provide age-appropriate video content for kids between the preschool and tween years. Beyond safer content, it also gives parents more control over their kids’ viewing habits with access to things like timers to limit viewing time and the ability to block some content and disable the search feature. Parents can even customize a playlist of sorts with the content they want their kids to see and then turn on the “Approved Content Only” setting so that they know exactly what their kids are watching.
While YouTube Kids is certainly safer than the standard version, it’s important for parents to know that even on YouTube Kids there have been reports of videos that include violent and sexual content. For example, there have been reports of instructions on how to commit suicide parsed into a video about a popular video game and one that shows Spider-Man urinating on Elsa, the beloved princess from “Frozen,” so it’s not bullet-proof. YouTube has said that it is continually working to improve their system so that this doesn’t happen, but we recommend being vigilant about your kid’s usage, even on the YouTube Kids app. Check in on what they’re viewing to make sure that nothing inappropriate is getting in through the cracks.
Related: Check out our guide to setting up iPhone parental controls.
Check their viewing history
It’s a good idea to regularly check in on what your kids are watching, not just by peeking over the shoulder occasionally (which is always a good idea too), but also by looking at their viewing history. To check it, sign into their account and click on Library. There, you’ll see all of the YouTube videos they’ve watched. If you notice a lack of videos in their history, even though they spend a lot of time watching videos, that could be a hint that they’re watching things they don’t want you to know about and then deleting them from their history.
To see what they’ve been watching on YouTube Kids, tap on Recommended, then swipe until you find Watch It Again videos. There, you’ll be able to see what they’ve been watching on the app.
Turn on Google SafeSearch
Unfortunately, the internet is filled with inappropriate content that goes far beyond YouTube. To help further monitor their access to sites unknown, you can also turn on Google SafeSearch, which was designed to filter out explicit content, such as pornography and violence.
To turn on GoogleSafeSearch, go to Google.com. At the bottom of the page, tap Settings, then Search Settings. You’ll then be taken to a page where you click a box to turn on SafeSearch. You must do it for each browser on each device, and it’s not 100 percent effective, but it’s a good extra step to take.
Parental controls on YouTube: The bottom line
While these steps can certainly help clean up the content your child watches, they don’t offer any guarantees. Clever kids can find ways around controls, and sadly, there are people out there who will do everything in their power to try to thwart the system and attempt to sneak inappropriate content in where it shouldn’t be.
The best parents can do is to turn on the parental controls that are available to them and to talk to openly and honestly with their kids, setting expectations as to what they’re allowed to watch and what they’re not. Let them know that they're responsible for telling you if they ever see anything outside those boundaries and that you’ll be monitoring them closely.
If you've got a handle on YouTube parental controls, you may also be interested in the best kid's GPS trackers.
This article has been reviewed and approved by Officer Banta.
Officer Banta is the official SecurityNerd home security and safety expert. A member of the Biloxi Police Department for over 24 years, Officer Banta reviews all articles before lending his stamp of approval. Click here for more information on Officer Banta and the rest of our team.