Parents' Ultimate Guide to YouTube Kids

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So many kids love watching videos on YouTube, it seemed like a slam dunk for Google to create a special app specifically for the online video service’s youngest fans. And while YouTube Kids offers a colorful, easy-to-navigate environment, a wide range of high-quality videos, parental controls, and fun features for kids, it’s been dogged by concerns over its advertising, branded content, and inappropriate clips slipping through the curation process. So is YouTube Kids right for kids — or not?
With its whimsical visuals, silly sound effects, and picture-based navigation, YouTube Kids is fun and friendly — and doesn’t look at all like its parent site. Kids can roam through a vast menu of YouTube videos geared toward their age group by swiping left and right, or they can view channels through the categories at the top of the screen. 
Read Common Sense Media’s full review of YouTube Kids, and learn more about how it works and how to use it safely (if at all) with answers to parents most frequently asked questions below. (Also be sure to check out our 2020 research on how ads, toys, and games dominate kids’ YouTube viewing.)
What is YouTube Kids?
What type of videos are on YouTube Kids?
Is YouTube Kids safe?
Are there ads on YouTube Kids?
How do I set parental controls and profiles on YouTube Kids?
How do I set content filters on YouTube Kids?
What age is YouTube Kids for?
Why does YouTube Kids have disturbing videos?
What is YouTube doing to make the app safer for kids?
What can I do if my kid sees disturbing content?
What are the alternatives to YouTube Kids?
YouTube Kids is a kid-targeted version of YouTube that features curated, ad-supported TV shows, music, educational videos, and user-created content. It’s designed for kids preschool age to age 12 and is available as an app and a website. YouTube Kids allows you to create individual user profiles for each of your kids, so they can each log in and watch videos geared toward their age. One of the best features of YouTube Kids is the timer, which lets you set a limit (up to an hour) for your kids to play on the app.
Since there are regular updates, the channels and videos are subject to change. “Shows” features clips and full episodes of popular children’s programming (like Winnie the Pooh and Thomas and Friends); “Music” clips include classic and contemporary kids’ songs. The “Learning” section includes access to education-focused clips from sources including Khan Academy, PBS Kids, and TED-Ed, and the “Explore” section features a sprawling range of user-created content, toy-related videos (including many “unboxing” clips), and a more random array of kid-friendly content, as well as channels created by brands such as McDonald’s. According to the 2020 research report from Common Sense Media, most of the videos kids watch are primarily entertainment, not educational content.
YouTube Kids is mostly safe, but there’s a small chance kids could see nudity, violence, or just weird stuff, as well as ads for stuff like junk food. Our study found that 27% of videos watched by kids 8 and under are intended for older target audiences, with violence being the most likely negative content type. Technically, the app is a portal to the main YouTube service and uses an algorithm to filter out the grown-up stuff and funnel the kid stuff to the app. But inappropriate videos can make it past the algorithm. Since the app launched in 2015, Google has improved its curation efforts by engaging human monitors to personally review videos flagged as inappropriate on the main app and offering “verified” videos (viewed and OK’ed by a human). On the plus side for parents, YouTube offers fair warning that kids may see something that you don’t want them to see and you can block and report inappropriate videos.
Advertising is pervasive on YouTube Kids, occurring in 95% of early childhood videos, according to our research. Ad design can be problematic, too, and include banner ads that block educational content, sidebar ads that could be confused for recommended videos, and ads for video games that show doctored versions of popular characters. If parents sign up for a YouTube Premium subscription, there are no ads, and kids can watch offline. But kids will still have access to branded channels from fast food or toy companies.
To set up parental controls on YouTube Kids, log in with your Google account. You can create a personal passcode, which acts as a master key for accessing the app’s settings, or you can use the random multiplication quiz each time you want to get in. (The quiz presumably prevents kids from gaining access.) The app allows profiles for up to eight kids, each with its own avatar and individual settings, including time limits and a personal passcode for each kid so they can’t access each other’s profile.
The main thing you’ll need to decide is whether you want to allow your kid to search the app freely, or rely on the app’s age-based content settings (4 and under, 5–7, and 8–12), which serve videos generally appropriate for each age range. Selecting “Approve content” yourself disables search and instead serves up video Collections, which are videos that have been verified as age appropriate.
All of the profile settings are accessible through the lock icon on every screen, you can update them as often as you wish, and they apply immediately to the app and the website.
YouTube Kids doesn’t offer content filters. To limit what your kids can view, you can use the parental controls to allow only content you’ve approved. Otherwise, the app aims to show videos based on the age range you’ve specified (kids 4 and under see more early learning content while 8- to 12-year-olds see more gaming videos, for example). If there’s something you definitely don’t want your kids to see, you’ll have to block those videos when they come up.
The app store says YouTube Kids is for 4 and older, but Common Sense Media recommends it for kids 7 and older. In addition to the ads, the commercialism, and the potential to see inappropriate videos, we think it’s better to wait until kids are slightly more mature or to view videos together with your younger children.
You may have heard about or seen some videos that look like they’re for kids but are clearly not. These videos may use familiar characters from kids’ TV shows, such as Caillou or Peppa Pig, or they may use cartoon graphics such as cars and trucks. The videos have seemingly kid-friendly titles and begin normally, but then become strange and even extremely disturbing. Whoever creates these videos — which have been termed YouTube Poop — has figured out how to use tags (the code that helps Google categorize content) to fool the algorithm. Disturbing videos are more common on the main YouTube channel, and YouTube is aware of the problem and trying to remedy it with more human monitors. But there have been scattered cases of disturbing videos popping up in the kid’s app, including a well-publicized incident of “suicide instructions” spliced in a cartoon video.
In addition to parental controls, video collections, and turning off search, YouTube has made some policy changes to try to improve the app. The company announced that when videos are flagged on the main YouTube app, they will automatically be age-restricted and therefore blocked from the Kids app. It will also remove the financial incentive of producers of some of this strange content, by eliminating their ability to serve ads on the age-restricted content. The addition of human monitors reviewing flagged content and proactively looking for disturbing content — which Google instituted after concerns surfaced about disturbing videos making it through the algorithm — should help a lot. And the app’s partnership with content providers such as PBS and Kidzbop further reduces risk. Still, it’s important for parents to keep an eye on things and actively make use of the product’s built-in controls to keep kids’ experiences fun and safe.
As with any media product that contains user-generated content, it’s wise to supervise closely and watch together when you can. If you find a disturbing video, you can block it, which makes sure the video doesn’t surface again. You can also report it, which alerts YouTube of the offensive content so that their team can review and remove it if necessary. If your kids are scared by stuff they see, try these methods to comfort them.
It might be the biggest, but YouTube isn’t the only fish in the sea. You can find streaming video apps with stricter parental controls, tighter curation, various video sources, and other useful, family-friendly features. Give these a try.
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