Your kids’ favourite cartoon characters are causing nightmares.
Mickey Mouse shooting himself.
Peppa Pig getting tortured at the dentist.
Elsa getting hit by a train and chopping her fingers off.
These are some scenes your kids may come across while they stream seemingly innocent videos online. You may wonder when did cartoon animations become so distressing to watch?
They didn’t. At least, not the original ones.
These disturbing scenes were from knock-off animations that were created and uploaded on YouTube Kids. Titles containing children’s favourite cartoon characters were used, baiting unsuspecting kids to click on these videos.
So, What Is YouTube Kids?
As YouTube is meant for children aged 13 and above, YouTube Kids, a child-friendly video-sharing app was specifically designed for kids. Released in 2015, YouTube Kids boasts a kid-friendly design and promised a safer platform for child-appropriate entertainment, so parents can be more at ease knowing that their kids are not exposed to countless videos with possibly harmful content on YouTube’s main site.
To further assure parents, parental controls settings are available in the application itself.
However, even though YouTube Kids was meant for kids, is it really a refuge from inappropriate videos?
The Dark Side of YouTube Kids.
Just 2 months after YouTube Kids’ release, there was a public outcry about the types of videos (warning: disturbing images) YouTube Kids were allowing on their platforms – which includes use of explicit sexual language and visuals, presence of unsafe behaviour and discussions on graphic adult topics about family violence, pornography and child suicide. It resulted in a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission.
These videos has led to dire consequences.
A pediatrician reported more kids going to her with issues like self-harm and suicide attempts – with many of them citing YouTube as a platform used to learn these behaviours. Medical experts also warned that YouTube is a growing source of anxiety and inappropriate behaviour in kids, as well as how it is affecting the child’s ability to make conscious choices.
What’s more distressing was the discovery that pedophiles hide in plain sight behind their screens and posts hundreds of thousands of sexually suggestive comments on videos of kids doing innocent activities such as yoga or dance.
Here’s How You Can Protect Your Kids.
#1: Use YouTube Kids Parental Control Settings.
When you first download YouTube Kids, set a 4-digit password to access the parental control settings. You can then customize the content your kids can access by blocking unwanted content and allowing approved content only. A time limit can also be set, such that the app will be locked after the time limit has been exceeded.
You can also turn the “Search” function off so your kids are limited to only watch from a set of channels that are pre-verified by YouTube Kids.
#2: Be Present.
This could possibly be the most important thing you have to do.
Despite the parental control features, YouTube still relies on algorithms – this means that videos will still be recommended based on viewing history. Because YouTube does not manually review videos, parents have to flag videos deemed inappropriate for kids and only it gets flagged, it will then be blocked from YouTube Kids.
(Source: Screenshots from YouTube Kids Application)
This means that someone must spot the problem content first before it will be taken off the app – putting your kids at risk of such inappropriate content. Therefore, it is crucial to be with your kids while they stream videos – because what may seem like a 12 minutes video of nursery rhymes with Peppa Pig can turn into violent content within the first 3 minutes.
#3: Use Third-Party Tools.
Kids these days may easily work pass all the YouTube Kids’ security features and undo all the preset parental controls.
But do not worry, there are third-party parental control apps (Android and iOS) available to help. Set time periods where your kids can use their devices, so you can ensure that your kids will not be using YouTube Kids without you beside them! You can even block other applications in that you think may contain harmful content (subject to your device’s technical specifications).
The plano app goes beyond and helps kids protect their vision with features like maintaining healthy face-to-screen detection and good posture monitoring.
The best part? It rewards kids for their good behaviour! When kids practice good eye care habits, points can be earned and redeemed for some healthy and enriching activities for the entire family!
#4: Find Other Alternatives.
Other than YouTube Kids, there are other video streaming apps suitable for kids in the market. Some of these apps have tighter curation and stricter parental controls. For example, Disney Now only has Disney approved shows, which are kid-appropriate.
Play Your Part.
As YouTube works towards creating a safer platform, it is important to know that as parents, we can also do our part.
Let’s stop these harmful content from infiltrating to our kids. Remember the tips we share above and let’s help build a safer online community for all our kids!