Parent’s Ultimate Guide to YouTube Kids

This post originally appeared on Common Sense Media.

So many kids love watching videos on YouTube, it seemed like a slam dunk for Google to create YouTube Kids 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?

Youtube Kids App
Photo Credit: YouTube Kids

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. 

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 types of videos are on YouTube Kids?

“Shows” features clips and full episodes of popular children’s programming (like Winnie the Pooh and 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. 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?

YouTube Kids is mostly safe, but there’s a small chance kids could see nudity, violence, or just weird stuff, as well as ads for stuff like junk food. Technically, the app is a portal to the main YouTube service and uses an algorithm to filter out the grown-up stuff and funnel the kid stuff to the app. But inappropriate videos can make it past the algorithm. Google has been stepping up its curation efforts by engaging human monitors to personally review videos flagged as inappropriate on the main app and offering “verified” videos (viewed and OK’ed by a human). 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?

The main parental control setting is the ability to allow your kid to search for videos in the app or not. Disabling search limits videos to only the ones that have been verified as age-appropriate by people on the YouTube Kids team. You can select “trusted channels” and topics in the Collections section, as well as restrict the “recommended” channels to only ones that have been viewed and OK’ed by a human. 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. 

How do I set content filters on YouTube Kids?

YouTube Kids doesn’t offer content filters. To limit what your kids can view, you can use the parental controls to allow only verified content or videos from a kid-friendly content partner. Otherwise, the app aims to show “younger” or “older” videos based on the user’s age, what you’ve watched, and the 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. For maximum control, parents can customize exactly what videos their children see by creating an account with the  “Approved Content Only” setting, where parents whitelist specific channels and videos that kids can view. 

How do you set up profiles in YouTube Kids?

YouTube Kids lets you create up to eight kid profiles that you can personalize for each user. 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. Parents can also choose content levels depending on the age of their kids. The app defaults to “Younger,” the full restricted version of the app. But parents can also select “Older,” to give tweens a less restricted, but still protected, version of the app.

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, they think it’s better to wait until kids are slightly more mature or to view videos together with your younger children. The default version of the app is aimed more at preschoolers and younger kids, but the “Older” content level is targeted to tweens 8–12, with a less “babyish” feel and more music and gaming videos.

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, and YouTube is aware of the problem and trying to remedy it with more human monitors. But there have been scattered cases of disturbing videos popping up in the kid’s app, including a well-publicized incident of “suicide instructions” spliced in a cartoon video.

What is YouTube doing to make the app safer for kids?

In addition to parental controls, video collections, 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. The addition of human monitors reviewing flagged content and proactively looking for disturbing content—which Google instituted after concerns surfaced about disturbing videos making it through the algorithm—should help a lot. And the app’s partnership with content providers such as PBS and Kidzbop further reduces risk. Still, it’s important for parents to keep an eye on things and actively make use of the product’s built-in controls to keep kids’ experiences fun and safe.

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.