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YouTube and Tweens: Tips for Families to Use YouTube Safely

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YouTube and Tweens: Tips for Families to Use YouTube Safely

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YouTube is a treasure trove of educational content, entertainment, and endless how-to videos. However, with its powerful recommendation algorithm, it can also become a time-consuming distraction. For families striving to use YouTube effectively, staying focused on desired content while avoiding unwanted or inappropriate videos is crucial. 

We asked experts to share practical tips to help YouTube viewers—both parents and kids—stay on track with their viewing goals. By setting appropriate screen time limits and fostering awareness, families can enjoy the benefits of streaming media without falling into the trap of endless viewing sessions.

What can parents do to make YouTube safer for their families?

  • Turn on “Restricted Mode” in General Settings to help hide potentially mature videos
  • Turn on “Remind me to take a break” to enable YouTube to send reminders every 30  minutes
  • Turn off “Autoplay”
  • Set up a YouTube account for each child in the Family Link app to set age based “Content settings” to be age appropriate

1. Teach appropriate YouTube use

Deborah Winters, LCSW

Deborah Winters, LCSW, House of Harmony Club

YouTube is a wonderful outlet for your elementary aged kids to stay up to date on educational content like science, history, and math. YouTube can also be a fun way to foster a child’s creativity and expression; to upload videos of their own such as educational videos, presentations, or creative projects! But too much of anything is never a good thing, especially when it comes to screen time. Here are some quick tips for ensuring your children have a great experience viewing YouTube and other streaming services alike.

Make time to teach:

You would never give your kid a bike and say, “good luck!” Teaching elementary school-aged kids how to use YouTube appropriately is crucial in today's digital age. By providing guidance on identifying age-appropriate and educational content, as well as recognizing inappropriate or harmful content, parents can empower kids to make informed decisions and maximize the learning opportunities YouTube offers.

Set boundaries:

Unlike other addictive experiences like drinking or gambling, there are no obvious indicators that someone has had “too much (screen time).” This is especially true for younger kids whose brains are not fully developed yet.  

While boundary setting can be uncomfortable for many parents, they are essential in helping your child not only create healthy viewing habits but also learn how to maneuver the grand landscape of a streaming service like YouTube.

Keep in mind that setting limits doesn’t always have to be face to face. Learning how to manage your environment more efficiently by enabling parental controls, monitoring content, using kid-friendly apps, and leaving devices in common areas, can greatly limit the potential of seeing inappropriate content.

Keep an open-door policy:

Encourage your child to ask any questions about the content they see. By creating a safe space to talk, parents create an opportunity for kids to think critically and evaluate the credibility of information they encounter online. This fosters a mindset of responsible digital citizenship from an early age. Ultimately, this proactive approach not only safeguards children's well-being but also nurtures their curiosity and love for learning in a responsible and age-appropriate manner.

Create separate accounts or profiles:

A study by Coventry University found that creating separate YouTube accounts or profiles for different interests can help compartmentalize recommendations (Hoskins, 2021). Additionally, a report by the Pew Research Center (2018) indicates that adjusting YouTube’s settings to restrict search results and recommendations can significantly reduce distractions. Furthermore, a study published in the Journal of Media Psychology (Müller & Opel, 2020) recommends using browser extensions like "DF YouTube Distraction Free" to remove recommendations entirely, enabling uninterrupted viewing.

By implementing these research-backed tips, such as customizing accounts, adjusting settings, and utilizing browser extensions, YouTube viewers can effectively stay focused on their intended content without being sidetracked by the platform’s algorithmic recommendations.

Help your child understand physical cues: 

This can include learning to pay attention to mood changes like zoning out, becoming irritable or having trouble concentrating. Or physical cues like eye strain, headaches, slouching or muscle tightness. These are all indicators that your mind and body have had “too much” and that it may be time to take a break.

One great way to discuss these cues is to have media-free periods or days planned into the week. After a break, ask your child to reflect on how their minds and bodies felt compared to the days with constant streaming.

Keep a viewing log or calendar:

This should include the accumulated hours used streaming, but also the lost opportunities and activities like playdates, creating, and running around. Visually seeing the accumulated hours can be eye-opening for kids.

Lead by example:

Discuss your own experiences using too much of something and show your kids how you handle it by unplugging.

2. Use YouTube settings to better manage recommendations

Mo Mulla

Mo Mulla, Founder, Parental Questions

Some tips for staying focused on the content you want to see on YouTube are:

  • Unsubscribe from channels that are constantly recommending videos that are not relevant to you 
  • Customize your recommendations by selecting “I don't want to see this” or “Not interested” when a video is recommended
  • Use the “Watch Later” feature to save videos for later viewing 

Additionally, parents can use YouTube’s “Restricted Mode” to filter out content that may not be appropriate for their children. Finally, remember that you can always control your time spent on YouTube by setting a daily limit in the “Time watched” settings.

For young children (ages 0-8) parents should be around when they’re watching YouTube and other streaming media because they may not be able to judge how long they’ve been watching for themselves. 

Around age 9 or 10, kids can start to regulate their own screen time a bit more, but it’s still important for parents to keep an eye on how much time their kids are spending on YouTube and other streaming media. 

The best thing to do for teenagers is to set limits on screen time in general, help keep them accountable consistently, and let them know that they can always come to you if they need help regulating their YouTube or other streaming media usage.

3. Use a timer

Kristen Bolig

Kristen Bolig, Security Nerd

It’s happened to all of us—we go to YouTube to watch just one particular video only to reemerge into reality hours later, having fallen down a rabbit hole of DIY, story time, and surprise videos.

Something that has really helped me manage the amount of time I spend on YouTube is setting time limits for myself. I will simply take out my phone, set a timer for an hour or less (depending on how much time I have or want to spend watching videos), and once that timer goes off, I’m done for the day. 

It’s a simple method to use a timer, but it’s effective, and it teaches you self-discipline and how to manage your time better.

4. Think safety first

Jaya Aiyar

Jaya Aiyar, Founder & CEO, Créatif

With billions of videos and users on YouTube, it is vital to put safety first, especially for your children.

Here are some safety features parents could apply:

  • Activate “Restricted mode” on the YouTube app to block inappropriate content 
  • Set up parental controls using the YouTube KIDS app for young kids under 13 years old 
  • Customize content allowed for preschool or elementary-aged kids
  • Turn the search bar off so kids can’t search for videos independently

In my experience, I’ve been anxious about the effects of screen time on my children. Managing a child’s screen time is challenging. Setting rules with your children is a must, such as no screen time or gadgets during mealtime and outings.

5. Establish ground rules

David Crusoe, Boys & Girls Clubs of America

Dave Crusoe headshot
David Crusoe

Responsible use of YouTube and other media starts by establishing ground rules. Young people can be asked:

  • Which content is appropriate?
  • Which content is inappropriate?
  • What are the penalties for accessing inappropriate content?

Adults, including teachers and parents, can facilitate the conversation and post rules and penalties in a visible location.

Learners are much more likely to follow rules of their own creation than they are externally-imposed rules they don't understand.

6. Keep track of your student’s followers

Hasan Ali headshot
Hasan Ali

Hasan Ali, Air Tutors

One thing parents should keep track of is who their student is connected to.

A lot of times with social media apps you can get random followers and for students of lower ages, this can get very creepy very quickly. So, we always encourage parents to be on top of their student's followers and/or ask them to keep their account private.

Additional resources

Google Family Link Guide for Parents & Educators

Parent’s Guide to YouTube: What Parents, Educators, & Students Need to Know

Can YouTube Help a Student’s Online Reputation?

Parent’s Guide to YouTube Kids

Parental Controls on Student Devices: What Parents & Educators Need to Know

Conclusion

YouTube can be a valuable resource for learning and entertainment when used mindfully. By implementing these tips, families can ensure they stay focused on the content that matters most, avoiding the pitfalls of endless recommendations. Encouraging children to be aware of their screen time and setting healthy limits can foster a balanced digital lifestyle. Remember, it's not just about controlling the time spent on YouTube but about cultivating a thoughtful and intentional approach to media consumption. By working together, families can harness the positive aspects of YouTube while maintaining control over their viewing habits, leading to a healthier and more productive use of their digital time.

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Quotation marks

This is great info, thanks for giving me some ideas on how to start a dialogue with my teen!

StarStarStarStarStar

Sharon M.

Parent VIP Member

Quotation marks

Josh's presentation about social media was unbelievably fantastic. Our students learned so much about what kids should and shouldn't be doing. The fact that it is such a thoughtful process made it all worthwhile.

StarStarStarStarStar

Director of College Advising

Educator Webinar Attendee

Quotation marks

This webinar is a very helpful eye-opener on the apps that are popular with my students.

StarStarStarStarStar

Irene C.

Educator Webinar Attendee

Learn more

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