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, a few 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. Despite the drawbacks, YouTube Kids definitely has the potential to be a family's go-to for kids to watch videos online -- if you supervise and enable safety settings.
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.
What is 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. You can create user profiles for each of your kids, so the app can tailor its selections individually. 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.
What type of videos are on YouTube Kids?
"Shows" features clips and full episodes of popular children's programming (like Winnie the Poohand 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.
Is YouTube Kids safe?
Parents who download the app assuming that a live human being -- or a team of them -- hand-select the videos and carefully sort them are often surprised to find out how the curation actually works. YouTube Kids is technically a portal to the main YouTube service. Using what Google calls "a mix of automated analysis and user input," it filters out the grown-up stuff and funnels the kid stuff to the app ... mostly. Inappropriate videos can make it past the filters, and users have reported seeing nudity, alcohol, and profanity, as well as fast food and junk food ads that push unhealthy eating. 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.
Are there ads on YouTube Kids?
Some of the videos have ads, like on YouTube. If parents sign up for a YouTube Red 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.
How do I set parental controls on YouTube Kids?
YouTube Kids offers a few basic parental controls. To access these settings, you unlock the "grown-ups only" section by using either a random passcode (written out so that pre-readers can't use it) or a custom passcode you create. Then you log into your Google account and select the user whose profile you want to add controls to. The main parental control setting is the ability to allow your kid to search for videos in the app or not. (It's safer not to.) You can also clear the history and pause your watch history, which mainly affects how the app serves up videos.
How do I set content filters on YouTube Kids?
YouTube Kids doesn't offer content filters. It tries to show "younger" or "older" videos based on the user's age, what you've watched, and terms you've searched for. If there's something you definitely don't want your kids to see, you'll have to block those videos when they come up.
How do you set up profiles in YouTube Kids?
YouTube Kids lets you have different profiles for each user -- but the profiles simply allow YouTube to track that user's search history and video views. Once you download the app, you log in with your Google account and set up profiles for your kids in the settings menu. Kids will like the ability to select their avatar and their own passcode (which parents can override) to prevent snooping siblings from sneaking into their profile.
What age is YouTube Kids for?
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.
Why does YouTube Kids have disturbing videos?
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, but they could pop up in the kid's app, especially if you allow your kids to search.
What is YouTube doing to make the app safer for kids?
In addition to parental controls, content filters, 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. However, this all relies on users finding and flagging the inappropriate content before they can pass through to the Kids app, which isn't foolproof.
What can I do if my kid sees disturbing content?
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.
What are the alternatives to YouTube Kids?
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.