YouTube is dirty. Not intentionally, of course, and there are plenty of dirtier websites out there, but at the end of the day YouTube is not as clean as you might think it is. There’s much more to it than fluffy cats, homemade bloopers, and comedy sketches — like unwarranted mature content that can pop up from time to time.
Fortunately, if you don’t want your kids to be exposed to such things, there are some precautions you can take to keep YouTube as clean as possible. Will these tips and tricks be foolproof? Not exactly. When it comes to the Internet there will always be loopholes and workarounds, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Enable YouTube Safety Mode
Google has a built-in Safety Mode for YouTube that’s been around for a while now, yet it always surprises me how many people aren’t aware that it exists. Long story short, Safety Mode uses community flagging, age restrictions, and other criteria to filter out inappropriate YouTube content. It’s not 100% effective but it is surprisingly good.
Safety Mode is a toggle that can be turned on and off, but you can lock it to prevent it from turning off. Safety Mode works on a browser basis so locking it will only lock it for the browser you’re currently using. If you have multiple browsers, you’ll need to lock it on each one. Locking requires you to sign into a YouTube account. In order to unlock Safety Mode, you’ll need to provide said account’s credentials again.
To use Safety Mode, simply browse down to the bottom of any YouTube page and click on the Safety section. Be aware that Safety Mode is tied into Google’s SafeSearch and enabling/disabling one will enable/disable the other as well. On that note, why not go ahead and set up a kid-friendly search engine?
Visit ZuiTube Instead
If you’ve never heard of Zui before, you can think of it as an Internet playground for kids. There are various sections of the site but the video section is a large collection of YouTube videos considered appropriate for children. What makes it kid-friendly, though?
All of the content that shows up on Zui is first reviewed and approved by a network of over 200 parents and teachers. Kids can log onto Zui and browse to their heart’s content, exercising their independence without parents having to worry about what they might stumble across.
Zui can even send you a weekly digest of a child’s activities on the site, which is great for parental guardianship, but it can also provide insight into a child’s interests based on what they like on the site.
Use Internet Filters
Internet filters are an extremely effective way to prevent a child from accessing inappropriate content. Filters can come in different forms, whether as an extension for a particular browser or a general purpose program that filters all incoming Internet traffic. Most filters will catch adult YouTube videos without much trouble.
I currently have K9 Web Protection (read our review of K9) installed on my computer and it is fantastic for keeping your family safe. Another alternative would be OpenDNS FamilyShield (read our review of OpenDNS), which I’ve also used in the past and had great success with.
The one problem with using these is that intelligent children are often able to find creative ways to bypass an Internet filter. But as long as you stay one step ahead of them, it shouldn’t prove too problematic.
Keep the Computer Public
Another tried-and-true method of making sure your child doesn’t run across inappropriate content is to keep their computer in a public space. Position the monitor is such a way that it can be easily seen from multiple angles and locations so you can keep tabs with a quick glance. A living room or family room would be the ideal spot.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a proponent of the practice of being an overbearing and overprotective “helicopter” parent but I do think parental oversight is important, especially for younger children who don’t know any better. For older kids, I firmly believe that they should be taught integrity and how to make the right decisions, which brings me to the last point…
Speak With Your Kids
No matter how you cut it, kids will eventually be exposed to inappropriate content in one way or another, whether by accident, through their friends, etc. It’s unrealistic to expect a child to remain innocent forever and even if a slip-up occurs somewhere, it won’t be the end of the world.
Speak with your kids and discuss important issues with them, such as what constitutes inappropriate content, why said content can be harmful, how to avoid said content, and what to do if they happen to run across something of the sort.
For the most part, YouTube is a fine and dandy place to be. Unless you actively seek out questionable search terms, there’s a slim chance that you’ll come across anything worse than pranks gone overboard or bikini-clad women. Still, it’s always good to be prepared and the tips above will help you to not be so worried about what your child might find.
What other tips or tricks do you use to keep your child safe while he or she browses YouTube? Do you block YouTube altogether? Do you use alternative video sites? Share your experiences with us in the comments!