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YouTube Kids: How to Keep Children Safe Online

YouTube Kids is rated 4+ years of age and many parents have assumed that given the age rating the content here would be safe for children, but as we’ve seen in recent days, this just isn’t the case.

So, what has happened?

There have been videos found on YouTube Kids that have another video hidden inside them. This extra content is spliced part way through the video, typically many minutes in, so that the parents have setup the video for their child and left them to it. This content has been confronting and has shown kids how to self-harm, and in some instances has had the imagery of Momo in them (Momo is a viral image of a sculpture who has become an internet phenomenon) who has instructed the kids to kill themselves.

To be clear, this is not the same as the Momo challenge that went around the internet last July/August. That challenge was through WhatsApp – where you text the number, it then sends you instructions for bizarre challenges which ultimately escalated and resulted in your suicide. This was proven to be a hoax and no deaths were ever proven to be linked to the Momo challenge. This time the image is being used inside other videos with a voice over telling viewers that it will kill them. So, still equally vile and terrifying but this time the target audience is a lot younger and more vulnerable.

How did this happen?

two kids using online maths learning tool

YouTube Kids and YouTube, and in fact many online platforms, are all places that allow users to upload content. In theory it’s a great idea as we get a range of content that has never before been available – and with that comes moderation issues. Content moderation is one of the biggest challenges for places like YouTube Kids as they lose control of what is being posted online. YouTube has over 300 hours of content uploaded to it every minute of the day. They use technology to moderate the content uploaded, but it is not foolproof and that’s how this disturbing content has slipped through.

What can you do?

First off, we need to talk to our kids, ask them, without mentioning or showing Momo or other inappropriate content, what they’ve seen or heard their friends talking about and get a feel for what they know.

If they’re unaware, use it as a chance to talk about your family rules ie: If you see something online that scares you or asks you to do something, or it just seems wrong, turn it off and come and find me, or mum/dad/grandparent etc so we can deal with it.

It’s so important that kids are told that they won’t be in trouble for telling and that you won’t punish them by taking away their access. They want to be safe, but they still want to watch their shows.

If they have seen something, talk to them about how they feel about it, reassure them they are safe and explain that’s it is all made up and designed to be scary, but it’s absolutely not true, and then reiterate the family rules etc.

If you do notice a change in behaviour, then you might need to seek additional professional support as this content can affect children’s sleep and increase their anxiety and fears.

YouTube Kids parental controls

Setup the parental controls that are available in YouTube Kids. You can setup each child with their own profile and password and you can then manage their programmes individually to cater for each of your children’s different interests and needs.

Once these profiles are setup you can now apply parental controls to each one.

Here’s how:

You may need to block or report a video at some stage and this is easy to do, simply click the 3 vertical dots at the top right of the video window and select the action you want to take.

It does take a little time to setup YouTube Kids like this, but if you do, you can then confidently let your children on the platform knowing that the content you’ve selected here is safe. Some parents have decided to remove access from YouTube Kids altogether, and that is understandable, there are other places that kids can watch shows such as ABC Kids, Foxtel Kids, Kids Netflix and even old school DVDs!

Teaching our kids about the internet and how to use it is important.

This is the world are children are in, so we need to talk about the risks that they may encounter online and what to do if they see or hear anything inappropriate. It’s a good reminder for us parents to stay engaged in our kids’ lives online and to have another look around at the parental controls we have available to us, not just on YouTube Kids but on all platforms, apps and games

For more advice on keeping your child safe online visit this government website.

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Joanne Crane

Joanne loves speaking directly to people of all ages through the medium of writing, sharing tips and knowledge for families and kids to help everyone get the most out of life. Her focus is on the development of resilience, confidence and independence in children, and on helping families engage and create lasting memories. Self-esteem, self-respect and self-worth are vital skills that Joanne believes children need to learn early to help them grow as adults.

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