YouTube is simply a tool.
Tools can be used for good purposes – like learning how to knit using short rows, or clean the inside of your car’s windshield. But tools can also be used for nefarious purposes.
During a discussion in the private coaching group for parents that I run, one mom questioned my idea of focusing on YouTube as one of the most dangerous places on the Internet.
In response to an Educating Happy Kids advanced chapter, she wrote into our forums: “I think “YouTube is Dangerous” was well done, but you neglect to explain that your example is just that, an example. It’s not the only place where those problematic algorithms live.”
This mom has a great point.
Probably like you, I love YouTube and use it frequently. But it does have its dangers, and they are problematic for this very reason: just about everyone uses YouTube.
Including our kids. With so many millions upon millions of children using YouTube, it represents a huge danger, and thus is worthy of consideration all by itself, in a blog post like this.
YouTube is also all about rabbit holes. In the last few weeks I have been pulled down a rabbit hole of investigating YouTube as a tool.
When you want to watch something inspiring (like this, one of our favorite family videos about a kid named Cain and the arcade he built out of cardboard, or like this, which does include some not-for-kiddo language, a video made by a guy who got sick and tired of being given tickets for going around objects in the bike lane), YouTube is definitely the place to go.
But it’s not the sort of place you can drop your kids off and trust that they’ll be looked after with any sort of care at all.
We used to drop off our kids in front of the tube when they were young.
I could start dinner while they watched PBS kids. Or the Disney Channel, or Nickelodeon.
Perhaps at the last two the content wouldn’t be educational, but we parents could trust it to at the very least not impart dangerous ideas.
Pranks that children try at home and then get seriously hurt.
Videos designed to pull tweens or teens into a misogynist, racist, or pornographic wormhole.
But YouTube does all that.
In trying to understand how to help you navigate – how to help you ensure that your child does not get pulled into any of the above – I turned to Dr. Devorah Heitner.
She was on the show in episode 116, talking about how to help your kids navigate their digital world. She’s written an entire book on the subject, and as we set up a time for our conversation she shared her post about YouTube and children.
When we talked, here is what Devorah had to say regarding young children and YouTube:
“There isn’t really a safe way for a kid to be watching YouTube unless you are there watching with them right in the room.”
Why is YouTube so dangerous?
For two reasons:
1) The search function
YouTube is an amazing search engine.
You can put just a few words in, and you’ll find all kinds of videos offering an explanation of that subject.
But, as therapist Natasha Daniels writes in this blog post, about parents who come to therapy because they found their eight-year-old son naked in his bedroom, doing “sexually explicit things” with his similarly naked eight-year-old male friend: “They wanted to know if maybe their son had been sexually abused. Where did these boys learn these sexually explicit behaviors? The little boy told me, “I saw it on YouTube and I showed the video to my friend.”
How did he find it? By typing the letters S, E, and X into the search bar on YouTube.
“I wish,” Daniels continues, “this was an isolated incident, but it’s not. Month after month more boys are flooding into my office. Young boys. Boys with sexual curiosity. Boys who have access to YouTube. YouTube is our new sexual education.”
2) The YouTube algorithm
YouTube is set up to show you video suggestions in the sidebar, based on what you have been watching. And YouTubers have learned to use that algorithm to make sure that their video comes up in the suggestions of what to watch next.
And again, this is something that could be great, or could be terrible, depending on what you are viewing.
But it’s how people get pulled into these specific rabbit holes. Because the YouTubers with the most dangerous ideas often know exactly how to get their video next in line after an innocent video.
And then before you know it, your child has seen something that they could never un-see.
That is why Devorah Heitner recommends that your young child should never, ever watch YouTube alone.
But what about an older child?
Once kids hit adolescence, even as young as ten or eleven years old, they may begin to branch out on their own into places like YouTube.
For this, Devorah recommends teaching your child to become an investigator.
“Some YouTubers are just doing silly stuff and it’s funny and entertaining,” she tells me. “But there are people who are absolutely out there to recruit your kids. And that’s where you want to encourage them to find really good sources on the thing. If your kid cares about animals, what are the good sources about ecology or saving species? If your kid is concerned about the environment, what could they be reading that’s a good source?
Try to honor the fact that they’re hungry for real information about the world, and that they want to engage with real issues.”
It all comes down, she continues, to teaching kids good media-literacy skills:
“[These media-literacy principles were around] even before the digital age: how do I evaluate advertisements? How do you evaluate billboards? How do I evaluate a media source for bias?
These are really important skills for kids to have.”
To sum up: YouTube is a dangerous place.
Keep your child safe by watching with them when they’re young, and helping them be media-literate as they grow.
Keep reading below for What’s up on the podcast/on YouTube/in the Facebook group… And for the picture of the week! Which is one of me knitting! (You didn’t think I was going to talk about knitting short rows, and not have a knitting picture in here, did you? : )
Wishing you a wonderful parenting week!
What’s up on the podcast this week:
We’re talking about the stages of human development, relating the stages about us grown-ups back to the stages about our kids, and figuring out why we should care!
After the break I share our personal family experience with the dangers of YouTube, which comes up because kids, especially boys, in one particular stage are extra-vulnerable to bad people like racists and misogynists.
Take a listen by going to:
What’s up on my YouTube channel this week:
Extending on this theme, the live YouTube (I do one every Thursday) is called
“What really matters in a grown-up’s development?” and it is available at the link just above! Or,
Check out my YouTube channel by clicking here.
What’s up in the We Turned Out Okay Facebook group this week:
Each Monday in our We Turned Out Okay Facebook group I do a superquick Facebook live that I call “Magic Words for Parents”… And this week’s was all about one thing we can learn from our kids, instead of the other way around.
Click here to join the Facebook group : )
Picture of the week:
I love complicated little pieces of knitting! And this one is certainly complicated.
It will be a bag, and even though it’s small, it will take me probably months to finish it. But it’s the journey, just as much is the destination, right?