How to Keep Kids Safe on YouTube and Beyond

Young children today are spending increasing amounts of time using mobile devices with internet connectivity. Given children’s growing access to digital media, it is important for parents to be intentional in their plans for guiding children’s use to ensure their safety and promote positive learning experiences. There are two main approaches to doing this.

As Taylor Lorenz explains in her article Momo Is Not Trying to Kill Children, many parents are missing the way online platforms like YouTube themselves often perpetuate harm: by failing to flag inappropriate content, using skewed content-recommendation algorithms that promote extremist beliefs, and by not protecting kids against cyberbullying from peers.


Image via Unsplash/ Hal Gatewood

According to Jennifer Jipson, PH.D., advisor to The Goddard School and associate professor in the Department of Psychology and Child Development at California Polytechnic State University parents can choose to be restrictive with screen time or they can use active engagement.

How Do You Monitor Screen Time?

Restrictive Approach:

restrictive approach involves setting rules for what content children are allowed to view, and limited time use.  For example, parents might decide that they are comfortable with children viewing media on Netflix, but not on sites that allow streaming of user-generated content, such as YouTube.

Although restrictive approaches are effective with young children, it does not provide them with the digital literacy skills they need when they are not subject to parental rules (e.g., as they get older and more independent, when parents don’t follow through with enforcing rules, in settings with less attentive adults, etc.) so this approach needs to change as children get older and use devices independently.

Active Engagement:

Using active engagement in children’s media use involves participating in media use alongside children. When watching television and movies, parents can co-view in active ways by asking questions and having discussions about the content. If something scary or confusing happens, parents can guide children's thinking about how to respond (do they turn the program off? tell a parent? etc.). When playing apps and video games, parents can comment on their children’s efforts and ask questions about the gameplay – it’s fun for kids to feel like experts sometimes! Active participation in children’s media experiences helps children learn to be responsible users of digital media- a skill they can use even when parents aren't around. It can also be a wonderful opportunity to show your child that you are interested in what they’re interested in!

An important part of active engagement is to anticipate potential issues that might arise with children's media use, and talk with them ahead of time about how important it is for them to tell a parent when certain things happen online (e.g., if someone they don't know messages them on a game, if their show is interrupted by something that isn't related to the program).”

Which approach do you use with your kids when using YouTube or other streaming services?