It's only 12 years old, yet YouTube is already the preferred video platform of the younger generation.
It was the birthplace of the viral video, remember Charlie bit my finger?), and has since morphed into a legitimate destination for entertainment and programming. Pretty much any kid who's been around a smartphone or tablet has found something to watch on YouTube.
If you've read our parents guides on Snapchat and Musical.ly, you're aware we usually start explaining the featured app or service. In this case, it's YouTube. If you're reading this on a computer or mobile device, odds are you know YouTube.
How popular is YouTube?
YouTube has more than a billion users, which amounts to 1 in every 3 people who use the Internet. In February, the site confirmed its users worldwide watch one billion hours of vidoes every day. Let's repeat: 1 BILLION HOURS. That's enough for creators to make a living hosting their own YouTube channels. The service says the number of channels earning six figures is up 50% year over year.
But let's dig in beyond the numbers here. In large part, YouTube has changed how people, particularly younger viewers, consume their video. If they want to watch something, they fire it up immediately. There's no waiting for a specific day/time to watch. It's all there waiting. YouTube, along with other free video services, have also made paying for traditional cable TV less appealing.
Why are your kids obsessed with YouTube?
The easy answer: it's free. Although the company hosts YouTube Red, a subscription service for high-quality content, as well as a soon-to-launch streaming TV service, a large portion of their videos are free to watch.
There are also a lot of videos to watch, on just about everything. Literally. The latest trailer for Despicable Me 3? Check. How to make a paper airplane? Check. Disney characters trying canned food to determine if it's for humans or dogs?
Combine that with the fact that you can watch YouTube on pretty much any device available, and it's easy for kids to fall down the video wormhole.
Should I worry about my kids using it?
Let's start with the first part to this, which is watching videos. Whether you are searching for videos or simply clicking through recommended videos, it is easy to stumble across something you might deem inappropriate for your child to watch.
The Outline shares a really good example of this involving the Nick Jr. show Peppa Pig. The show has its own channel with just clips, but there are knockoffs which are a lot scarier if you have a younger child. Even a video that looks innocent might contain stuff you definitely don't want kids to watch.
Kids might also learn things you don't want them to know at their age, such as how to drive a car.
The other part to this is what happens if your child wants their own YouTube channel (and trust me, the moment some kids start seeing peers their age hosting YouTube videos, they will start asking for a YouTube channel). YouTube requires hosts of a channel to be at least 13 years old. Tell that to the 5-year-old with a channel boasting more than7 million subscribers.
There's the question of what they share on YouTube, not to mention the viewers they attract through their videos. Because YouTube videos have comments and their own messaging platform, it can be easy for any one to contact your child.
How can I protect them?
Watch videos with them. Find out what they're interested in and check out stuff together. Sometimes, it's easy to spot an inappropriate video right away just by checking out features such as suggested videos.
Luckily for parents, YouTube has created an app specific for kids. YouTube Kids is available on both iOS and Android. Although you will still see ads, all the content is intended for children, and split up into easy-to-access categories. There are also some great features, including a timer kids cannot turn off without a passcode from their parents, as well as the ability to turn off search, adjust the age level for the home screen so it shows appropriate videos, and blocking.
If you're on the main YouTube site, you can also turn on Restricted Mode (found at the bottom of the page) to block inappropriate content.
As for creating videos, get involved with your kids' idea. What kind of channel do they want? What types of videos do they want to share? YouTube guidelines requires users to be at least 13 years old to create an account.
If you don't videos out there for the world to see, you can also choose to make them private or unlisted, which means users can only view them if they have the link to that video and not through search.