From math tutorials to handicraft how-to videos, YouTube can be a powerful learning tool for kids. Given the wealth of educational content — and just pure fun — on the platform, many parents are happy to let their kids explore it. Unfortunately, the popular video sharing site also has a darker side.
To keep users watching, YouTube presents further recommendations based on previously seen content and videos watched by similar viewers. Your child could enjoy a video about crazy pranks and find themselves clicks away from dangerous and even violent content. Malicious actors use their knowledge of YouTube’s recommendation engine to lure viewers to some sinister places.
No matter how well you parent your children, you can’t fully control the outside influences that they encounter. With the web’s vast reserves of both beneficial and dangerous content, how can you safely separate the two?
Doing so requires a two-pronged approach. First, you need to manage your child’s tech use, both limiting unsupervised use and taking advantage of existing safeguards. Second, you need to tend to their emotional needs, which extremists might otherwise try to exploit. In these ways, you can help protect your child from falling victim to extremism on YouTube and the internet at large.
1. Restrict Unsupervised Internet Access
One of the primary ways of keeping your child safe from YouTubers with twisted agendas is to watch along with them. Locate computers in common areas so you can keep an eye on what they’re viewing. Similarly, require them to use tablets and other mobile devices in the kitchen or family room, not their bedroom. That way, you’ll be able to see whether your kiddo is watching a funny dog video or the rantings of an aggrieved white nationalist.
“But what about when they’re away from home?” you might wonder. All your supervisory efforts will be in vain if they can watch whatever videos they like on their smartphone. To stay in touch with your child while they’re out and about, consider a safe phone for kids instead. These devices allow calling and texting but prohibit access to the internet, social media, and games. Your child can still reach you when needed, and they’re more likely to pay attention to their surroundings with fewer screen temptations.
2. Rely on Curated Video Content for Kids
For assistance in monitoring your kid’s viewing, turn to the tech itself. An app like YouTube Kids provides curated content for children so you don’t have to do the work. Consider introducing your child to the app so they can safely explore the website to their heart’s content. Kids-oriented networks like Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and PBS Kids also dish up fun — and appropriate — videos your child will love.
If you’re not averse to employing some settings on your own, you can render even standard streaming services kid-safe. Both Netflix and Amazon Prime allow you to create a user profile for your child that will put adult-themed shows off limits. Once you’ve set up their profile, your kiddo will be able to access an abundance of appropropriate entertainment options.
3. Create a Safe Space for Questions and Discussion
Once you’ve got tech on your side, you need to show your child you’re on their side. Extremist YouTube content tends to draw in those who feel isolated from others. Its influence builds as isolation grows because these victims aren’t discussing extremist ideas with real-life people. They’re not seeing outside perspectives or directly empathizing with others. To be clear, it’s not being alone or lonely that’s the issue — it’s a lack of interpersonal support.
Create a space where it’s safe for your children to be honest about their thoughts without judgment or punishment. Show them you care and that you’re listening regardless. Help them learn more so you can guide them in the right direction. Not only does this encourage mindfulness and honesty, but it also provides them with a crucial sense of mental agency.
4. Steer Clear of Shaming Tactics
Remember the last point when you have these discussions — you want to positively reinforce openness as much as possible. Negative punishment — exclusion, punishment, shaming, etc. — shows children that their ideas, which they truly believe, are unwelcome to others. They may well be unwelcome to you, but you need to keep your cool. While the ideas might be unhealthy, suppressing them (the misguided purpose of punishment) usually has the effect of strengthening them.
The reason for this is that the person being shamed identifies with the ideas that brought on the shaming. Censure can lead your child to believe that you just don’t understand them and never will. In contrast, the safer your child feels, the more comfortable they’ll feel about letting go of a misguided belief. They’ll be able to reason their way out because your differing opinions won’t feel like a personal insult.
5. Practice What You Preach
Once you have the opportunity to share alternative perspectives, do your best to integrate these perspectives into your daily life. Take situational opportunities, like when you come across someone who needs help, to provide an example of empathy with others. Nothing will teach a child better than a good role model to look up to.
You don’t have to be a perfect human, though — making mistakes shows that your child doesn’t have to be, either. And the more you own up to your mistakes, the more naturally it will come to them as well. Demonstrating personal growth is powerful, and all it takes is a little bit of mindfulness.
There is all kinds of content on YouTube and the internet with a wide range of purposes. Some of it is great … and some of it is not so great. It’s your job to protect your child from the latter. But parental controls aren’t sufficient without a proper foundation of critical thinking. Consider these tips to attack the issue from both sides and, ultimately, strengthen your bond with your child.