YouTube is a video sharing and social media platform. According to research data released by Statista in June 2022, more than 500 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute, much of it coming from people posting homemade videos. Since content is user-generated, children can easily access inappropriate or questionable content—even unintentionally. The YouTube comments section is notoriously toxic, and children with their own channels can frequently become targets of harassment in the comments. YouTube also enables users to livestream on the platform, which increases the risk of privacy threats to children and potential exposure to harassment and cyberbullying. A separate app called YouTube Kids (for children under 13 years old) has been created in an attempt to protect young users and provide increased parental controls.
Young people dream about becoming popular YouTubers, which can lead to engaging in risky behaviors to try to gain fame and followers.
- For the first time a user wants to go live, YouTube requires a phone number to verify the account, which may take up to 24 hours. Once verified, anybody can livestream from any device. If the account is set to public, anyone can view the livestream.
- Viewers can interact with the host and predators continually attempt to push boundaries—asking children to give a tour of their bedroom or house, where they live or go to school, what they are wearing, and even questions about private body parts.
YouTube has an automated recommendation system that suggests what users should view next.
- Predators can search for child profiles, post inappropriate comments, and try to get close to children—enabling potentially dangerous interactions.
- In 2019, The New York Times alerted YouTube that “its system was circulating family videos to people seemingly motivated by sexual interest in children.”
YouTube Kids is generally safer for children, but automatic curation and moderation means questionable content can slip through.
- Regular forms of user interaction on YouTube have been removed on the YouTube Kids platform.
- Parents can disable the search function so that kids can only access “verified” videos/channels.
According to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey, YouTube is used by 95% of teens and 19% report using it “almost constantly.” While YouTube is the most popular social media platform, unsupervised activity on the platform can still present safety risks for youth. In particular, parents should be aware and nearby when/if their child is livestreaming. Users can choose who is able to send them go-live requests or who has access to view livestreams. If the profile is set at 18 or older, the default privacy setting is public, but the settings can be adjusted to public, private, or unlisted. If a child wants to livestream with friends, a simple safety measure could be for parents to verify the video is private and ensure the link is shared only with safe, known friends. Children should be careful about publicly sharing personal information such as their name, date of birth, location (home address or school name), and phone number.
Cyberbullying and harassing comments are pervasive on YouTube. YouTube comments can be disabled or adjusted to only allow them from people who the child follows. While YouTube Kids provides a safer avenue, parents still need to set up those controls/restrictions and continue to be vigilant. In order to provide the best support, it can be helpful for parents to pay attention to how long children are spending on YouTube and how they engage on the platform. It’s important to be prepared to talk about inappropriate content and have non-judgmental conversations about healthy choices and habits. If these conversations happen at a young age, children are more likely to confide in their parent or caregiver.
Want To Learn More?
For more information about YouTube, check out Bark’s The Ultimate Parent Guide to YouTube. For more information about YouTube Kids, check out Common Sense Media’s Parent’s Ultimate Guide to YouTube Kids. Parents can also visit internetmatters.org for information about livestreaming and the risks for young children. Additional information about YouTube and its algorithm can be found in the sources listed below.