Parents’ safety guide to social media: YouTube


Lockdowns led many parents to allow their children to go online far more than they might have chosen to. It was a way for children to connect with their friends during this isolating time. But this may have accelerated internet uptake among primary aged children and set a trend for their younger siblings to join at ever younger ages.It’s a new frontier of friendship which those of us who ‘grew up in analog’ can find it hard to understand. But it isn’t going anywhere and the best thing for us to do is to understand it. Attempting an outright ban is unlikely to be successful and will create secretive behaviours that will do more harm than good in the long run. Openly discussing online activities with children making informed decisions that give them a reasonable level of privacy is a strategy for success.

YouTube as gateway social network

YouTube is often the first social network that children engage with. It might appear to just be a video viewing platform, but the comments section below each piece of content invites viewers of all ages to leave their thoughts out for public consumption - making it a social network. This is where children start to create their ‘digital footprint’ - and as such, needs to be monitored by parents.

In this article, we’re looking at YouTube and the measures you can take as parents to protect primary school aged children and encourage digitally aware decisions.

How many primary aged children are going on social networks?

According to Ofcom’s latest statistics, nearly all children (99%) went online in 2021, with YouTube and TikTok the two most popular activities. 89% of children aged 3-17 used YouTube.

A majority of children under 13 had their own profile on at least one social media app or site; a surprisingly high 33% of parents of 5-7s said their child had a profile, and 60% of 8-11s said they had one, despite being under the minimum age.

One third of children aged 8-11 had profiles on YouTube (27%) and TikTok (34%). Among those who had a profile but were under the minimum age (ie aged 3-12), significant minorities of the younger children claimed to have set up their social media profiles themselves.

Only 42% of parents of children aged 3-17 knew the minimum age for social media is 13 and 38% of parents of 8-11 year olds said they would let their child use social media.

What are the risks of using YouTube?

Because all the content is created and uploaded by its users rather than the platform, there are very few ways to stop your children seeing inappropriate or upsetting content such as the Momo Challenge. They aren’t old enough to process this scary content and it can lead them to feeling anxious or depressed, especially when they are absorbing it all alone.

Children might be watching an innocuous video about baking one minute and then skip over to a violent or graphic video without meaning to. It’s impossible to ‘unsee’ this content.

YouTube viewers are fed advert after advert while they browse. ‘Unboxing’ videos are just as damaging, leading to feelings of missing out and wanting merchandise which they can’t have, which will leave them feeling hard done by.

It’s addictive when one video instantly takes you to the next and the next and the next. Without strict rules or parental guidance in place, you can’t blame a child for being sucked in to the timewarp.

Meeting strangers online is as dangerous as meeting them in real life. Children might be vulnerable to grooming and sexual abuse online.

How can you tell if it is safe for your child to use YouTube?

The best way is to sit down without your child and create your own profile in the app, explore it and check that you’re happy with what you see. Delve into the privacy and security settings to work out what information might be shared and what can be blocked. Then play it with your child to see how they use it before agreeing.

Parent safety guide to YouTube

  • YouTube Kids. You can use YouTube Kids settings for under-4 year-olds, 4-8 year-olds, and 8-12 year-olds. This is populated with content that has been picked for this younger audience. However, on investigation we found it is possible to see unpleasant content that has slipped through the net even on YouTube Kids.
  • Restricted Mode. For older children, turn on Restricted Mode. This is supposed to filter out drug and alcohol use, violence, swearing, terrorism, war, defamatory and sexual content. But it isn’t failsafe and again, we found unsuitable content even on this mode.
  • Monitor it. The only way to know what your children are doing on YouTube is to monitor their usage. Let them watch it only in the same room as you. If you’re busy turn the volume up so you have an idea of what is being shown. Check the History later if you can’t be physically present at the time.
  • Build your own playlists or create them with your children so they feel included in the process. However - savvy or older kids will navigate on from this to the wider content.
  • Block specific channels or videos by clicking the dots in the top right corner.
  • Show your children how to block or report videos which make them feel uncomfortable. Giving them ownership of their time online teaches them how to have a healthy relationship with the internet.
  • Disable Search to be absolutely sure. This is not going to go down well with your children though! With Search disabled, only content that has been approved by YouTube’s human moderators will be shown.
  • Set up a third party parental control app so you can see exactly what your child is watching and who they are talking to online.
  • Talk! It’s really important to have open lines of communication with your children. Tell them why you are concerned about the content on YouTube. Ideally you want them to feel comfortable and secure enough to share with you if they have encountered some uncomfortable content.

Classlist is a private, safe social network where parents can communicate with others at their school only. It’s a moderated and polite online space where friendships can flourish and parents can help each other.

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