YouTube has been in the news a lot lately, with the story of PewDiePie and his channel being dropped from Disney due to anti-Semitism in several of his videos. A lot of kids were huge fans of PewDiePie, and his ugly reality brings the issue of parental monitoring of YouTube and more so, the difficulties of doing just that when YouTube is one of if not the most popular form of media for kids these days.
I watch a lot of YouTube, and when I started planning on writing this piece, I watched with a new set of eyes as I skipped around the site, watching music videos, gaming play throughs, (PewDiePie’s niche market) and other videos, all the time thinking “Would I let an 8 year old watch this?” and more urgently “is there anything preventing an 8 year old from watching this?” The answers are obviously not easy, as kids will find any possible way to get around parental controls if they are in place, and parents, let’s face it, do not have the time to watch YouTube over their kids’ shoulders all day. And they shouldn’t have to! I mean, have you ever watched a videogame play through? They’re paralyzingly boring, but kids love them. And PewDiePie was supposed to be one of the play-throughs that kids could watch. There are countless others, most with adults playing games with adult language, but let’s be real. Kids know “bad” words. And there are a lot of things more pressing than a kid hearing an expletive as they watch a bunch of grown people playing video games. But where does the line get drawn?
YouTube has something called “Safety mode” that is supposed to weed out any offensive content, but no filter is foolproof. Also, there are comment sections, which are rife with more foulness than I have ever seen in a Quentin Tarantino movie. There’s no possible way to 24/7 monitor your kids’ viewing habits on YouTube, unless you disable the site entirely, which in reality is just begging kids to find a secret way to watch it. Now you don’t know what they’re watching PLUS they’re lying to you, and that in no way is a better way to go about the issue. So what is?
The obvious answer is of course, to talk to your kids about what is and is not appropriate for them to be watching, and asking them what they enjoy watching. That way you can go look for yourself and decide if it’s something that they should be exposed to and take it from there. By not making it a hard and fast rule of “No YouTube!” or “You will not watch that!” and instead discussing what they tune in for and finding out what they like about it is much more productive and takes the shine off disobeying for the sake of disobeying. I know kids who will tell me straight out that they like a particular channel “but sometimes they use bad words” not because they want to emulate those YouTubers, but because they know it’s inappropriate and that they should NOT emulate those grown adults who might let an F-bomb fly while they’re playing a video game.
There are no concrete rules when it comes to inappropriate content, unless it is absolutely unacceptable on every level, like the PewDiePie issue was. YouTube does have a filter that an adult can put in place. Technically speaking, a person SHOULD be 13 before they upload their own videos, even though this rule is broken all over the site, and parents should know what their kids are being exposed to online. But things fall through the cracks. Things like the PewDiePie scandal happen. So no matter what the site itself does, it is not them, but parents themselves who hopefully open the lines of communication with their kids so they can understand *WHY* they as children should or should not be watching a particular video, and not just “because I said so.”
What do you think? Do you monitor your kids’ YouTube viewing?