YouTube Kids has come under a lot of fire recently, and parents everywhere are telling their stories about seeing misleading and inappropriate content on the platform. It’s easy to understand their concerns — after all, YouTube Kids was supposed to be the safe alternative to YouTube.
The problem isn’t with YouTube Kids’ intentions, though — its team wants children to enjoy technology just as much as we do — but unfortunately, the proper safeguards haven’t been put in place to make the platform truly kid-friendly. With harmful algorithms that push dangerous keyword-rich content to kids, it’s no wonder the platform is being questioned.
But it’s not just YouTube Kids that parents have to worry about. Many apps and social media platforms operate in the same way, so it’s essential that you find ways to safely introduce your kids to all that technology has to offer.
The Outcomes of Unsupervised Internet Access
Many kids today have their own smartphones and tablets, and some parents see no problem in giving them unlimited access to technology. Other parents do have concerns but ultimately give in when they need to quickly distract or entertain kids. Neither situation is ideal. Young children who haven’t yet learned how to manage their online activity might not be ready for such a large responsibility — here’s why.
Child psychologist Vivian Friedman said it best when she explained that our brains think concretely before they think abstractly. Young children, especially those under the age of 13, take everything at face value; many of them simply don’t understand the nuances involved in sharing personal data or interacting with inappropriate content online.
It’s easy to get caught up in all that these platforms have to offer, but kids (and adults) often suffer when their posts and photos don’t receive enough likes or comments from friends. One study even found that teens feel a mental reward when they receive likes, which shows just how powerful a swipe or click can be.
Problematic scrolling habits
Many online platforms, including YouTube Kids and TikTok, give kids unlimited access to content and even make recommendations about what they should watch next. Consequently, misleading and sometimes inappropriate materials get right past safeguards and onto kids’ screens.
Kids become familiar with technology sooner rather than later, which means parents need to have a more active role in moderating their children’s online activity — while still encouraging them to explore all that technology has to offer. The good news is that helping your kids feel safe and supported online is easier than you might think:
1. Follow the rules. Your 11-year-old might be begging to have a Snapchat account, but that doesn’t mean you should give in. According to Common Sense Media, children are 12.6 years old, on average, when they first sign up for a social media account, which means kids and parents are ignoring the age restrictions set by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
Online platforms can begin to collect personal information and data from users who are 13 years or older, and creating an account for younger kids puts them at risk. Talk to your children about why these rules exist, then help them to find a similar, safer app.
2. Keep a watchful eye. Technology gives kids the power to connect with people around the world — including those who might not always have their best interests in mind — so it should be assumed that they’re not just communicating with friends from school. Until children fully understand the risks involved and how to stay safe, parents need to monitor what their kids are doing online.
3. Protect your passwords. Make sure all Google Play and App Store purchases require a password. Avoid sharing this information with your children — this prevents them from downloading apps without your knowledge. Parents should also take time to explain to their kids why apps require approval and hold up their end of the bargain by reviewing and evaluating games and platforms — trusted sources like Common Sense Media are great for this.
4. Find time for play. If you notice that your son is spending a lot of time on one app, ask him to give you a virtual tour. Not only will you get to spend time together, but you’ll also get a firsthand look at how your kid interacts with other users. Try not to ask too many questions, though — children want to feel your support, not your suspicion.
5. Open the door to communication. Imagine that your daughter stumbles across something inappropriate. Do you want her to avoid talking about it, in fear that you’ll take away her device? Of course not. Set the stage for honesty before incidents arise so you can have conversations when needed. If you do feel the need to restrict access, help your kids to find a more suitable replacement.
If YouTube Kids has taught us anything, it’s that children aren’t ready to have unlimited access to technology. But that doesn’t mean parents should completely restrict their use — keeping kids safe online, and teaching them how to be responsible digital citizens, requires just a little bit of guidance.
Sean Herman is the founder of Kinzoo, a video-sharing and messaging app where children can connect and parents can be sure they’re safe. Kids use Kinzoo to access the best of what technology has to offer — empowering creativity, connecting with friends and family, and learning about the things they love — within closed, managed communities. Sean is an entrepreneur, CFA charterholder, and business leader with extensive experience ranging from founder and CEO to project manager and corporate finance analyst.