Updated on October 23, 2014
Social Media for Kids – What Parents Need to Know About YouTube
This is the second in a series on Social Media for Kids, and what parents need to know about the various online communication platforms. At present the most popular Social Media channel is Facebook, but YouTube is becoming more and more popular. This post explains why your kids what to use this channel, and what parents need to know about YouTube.
If you haven’t already – do read my article on Keeping Kids Safe Online – dealing with parental controls and blocks.
Rules and Regulations of YouTube
You don’t have to sign up to use YouTube, anyone can view the videos on the site. Signing up for an account means that the user can create playlists, favourite other users’ content, and follow other people or brands’ channels. YouTube has a lower age limit of 13 years for account users, in line with COPPA regulations, which I explained here. YouTube will remove the channels/accounts of users who are reported to them as being under 13yrs of age.
Why Your Child Wants to Use YouTube
Young people don’t just use YouTube to watch the latest music video, or funny cat films, they use it to communicate. A blogger recently told me that a young girl had posted a YouTube video in response to her blog post, instead of posting a comment.
It is also a great place to be creative. Your kids can make a film and upload it to YouTube to share with their friends. If they are interested in film making, then look up your nearest Apple Store for upcoming Apple Camps – free three day workshops that introduces children to making their own short films. We did one last year, and it was great fun.
Young girls in particular are taking to this form of communication. It has become popular for young bloggers to film video ‘selfies’ – to record their thoughts on anything from bullying to books, from body-confidence to the latest football chat! This tenth-grader produced a great video about body confidence, and the media obsession with perfection.
What You Should Warn Your Child About YouTube
YouTube has only limited ‘Child Safety’ features. Unlike Facebook, on which you as a parent can limit what your child sees, YouTube is totally open. There have been some troubling stories in the past about malicious users uploading porn in disguise of children’s videos, and men persuading girls to upload seemingly innocent videos (warning, that report is quite disturbing, although not graphic).
YouTube’s terms and conditions prohibit the sharing of pornography or sexually explicit content, and site owner Google has promised to crack down on porn. However over 70 hours of videos are uploaded to the site every minute and it has been estimated that policing that content would cost the company $35bn a year. The site relies on users reporting unsavoury and illegal content.
Turning on SafeSearch will filter some dodgy stuff out, but not it all. I tested to see how much it filtered – this angry Irish dad swearing at his son wasn’t filtered out and contains really strong language. I entered ‘girls’ into the search box with SafeSearch on and was offered videos of ‘sexy girls twerking’, and a lot of Golden Girls episodes! None of this would be particularly traumatic viewing but you might not be keen on your child learning to swear like an Irishman. That video was on the Most Popular at the time of writing, so will be the first thing your child sees when they open YouTube.
Activation of SafeSearch also turns on Google SafeSearch for that browser, so this is where it is good to have an separate user account on the computer for kids to use. Here are instructions for Windows and for setting up a Child Account so that you can monitor their usage. Here the info for Mac.
If your child wishes to post a video to YouTube, make sure they know the rules
Know what type of content to film: When filming videos of your friends, classmates or other minors, remember that they should never be sexually suggestive, violent or dangerous.\
Remember “The Grandma Rule”
Is what you’re filming or posting something you’d want your grandmother, boss, future employer, parents or future in-laws to see? If not, it’s probably not a great idea to post it.
The comments on videos can be bullying, offensive and downright nasty. There is a fair bit of racist, sexist and otherwise abusive language to be found, even on fairly innocuous videos. The ‘trolls’ don’t hold back, even on a video posted by a young person. If your child wants to upload a video, you might want to disable comments on the video. If you don’t want to do this, teach your child how to block users, and report comments and that they have a good knowledge of how to deal with trolls and cyberbullying.
A good way of limiting what your child sees on YouTube is to create Playlists or subscribe to YouTube Channels that you have checked out. First you will have to log in with a google account – you can use the same one that you use for other google services, or set up a ‘Family’ subscription. Then subscribe to the channels that you wish to follow.
Make it clear to your kids that you only wish them to view the playlist and the approved channels, and that you will be checking the history to ensure they are sticking to this agreement
“The Gleam Team”
This refers to a group of young YouTubers, i.e. content creators, who post videos on YouTube. When YouTube allowed creators of videos to become ‘partners’ and share in the ad revenue, it became a lucrative hobby for some young people. They uploaded daily ‘vlogs’ (video blogs) which were watched and shared by mainly tween audiences. For the most successful and popular of these YouTubers, this was so lucrative that they were able to leave their day jobs, and concentrate on making YouTube videos as a career. As Nickie O’Hara notes,
Zoe Sugg, her brother Joe, her boyfriend Alfie Deyes, Louise Pentland, Tyler Oakley, Tanya Burr and Grace Helbig, to name but a few, are being touted by the media as “the most famous people you have never heard of” (see these articles in the Independentand on Buzzfeed as examples); they are the teenage idols of today.
Nickie has picked up on several troubling aspect of these vloggers, including the fact that they often don’t disclose when they are being paid to promote an item, and their portrayal of their seemingly perfect lives, which may make children feel inadequate in comparison.
The ‘Gleam Team’ name comes from one of the many Social Media talent agencies who are vying to represent these young people. Advertising to tweens isn’t at all easy – they are watching less and less TV, reading less comics and magazines, and so brands are looking at new ways of reaching kids. Your child may get the impression that when her favourite YouTuber recommends a product, it is because she bought it herself and really loves it, when in actual fact, it was a paid promotion.
As more vloggers start working with agencies and PR companies, this may change, and we will see more transparency and open disclosure, but for now it is often not quite clear. Take a moment to talk to your kids about this, in the same way that you would explain about advertising during their favourite TV show.
The impression that YouTubers are making ‘easy money’ is not quite accurate. While I am sure that many of them enjoy their work, it is a lot of work to film, edit and promote a daily video. This isn’t a short cut to getting rich and famous. Take an afternoon and make a video with your child to show them how much work is involved!
In 2014, a series of allegations were made against a YouTuber, Sam Pepper after he posted a series of prank videos. Several women have alleged that he raped or sexually assaulted them, some of them were just 15 or 16 when the alleged offences took place. At the time of writing this piece, no charges have been brought against Mr Pepper, but this does highlight an important point. YouTubers are treated like pop stars, and have hordes of young fans desperate to meet them.
An appearance by YouTuber Alfie Dey to sign his new book brought London to a standstill, with over 8000 kids – mainly tween girls – turning up, in scenes reminiscent of a One Direction concert. YouTubers attend vlogging conferences, where fans can meet their idols; sometimes paying ridiculous sums of money to do so.
Alfie’s girlfriend Zoe Suggs has already signed a book deal, and launched a range of cosmetics. I don’t completely agree with this article on teen girls needing better role models than ‘Zoella’, as she is known. Yes, she is talking about make-up and looking pretty, but she’s an ambassador for the mental health charity MIND, and has spoken about overcoming panic attacks and depression. Zoella and her friend and fellow YouTuber also published this vlog on consent and boundaries.
The Bottom Line
YouTube remains problematic for kids, and it is advisable to have a good chat with your kids before letting them loose on the site. Use playlists and approved subscriber lists to create a ‘safe environment’ for your kids.
Talk to them about YouTubers, and how they make money via advertising and sponsored promotion, and how the life they portray is a ‘cleaned up’ version of their real life.
While this may all make you want to block your kids from using YouTube at all, do remember that the lessons they learn with you are much easier for them to process than taking these first steps alone.
Sooner or later, they are going to see something online that they will wish they hadn’t. All we can do as parents, is to ensure that they are prepared, that they know how to react, and that they feel that they can talk to us about what they’ve seen. Resist the urge to stop them using the site if they see something nasty, but take the opportunity to have a chat with them and show them how to report and block.