As kids watch more YouTube, some parents consider deleting it all together

GENEVIEVE SHAW BROWN
·4 min read

If screen time was a hot topic among parents before the pandemic, it's on fire now. With schools closed, kids learning remotely and parents stretched thinner than ever, screen time seems to be the default way to keep kids occupied.

While children are exposed to millions of apps, some of the common concerns over screen time are about YouTube.

In a recent post to a Facebook parenting group with nearly 40,000 members, one mom asked how to better control the content her daughter sees on YouTube. More than 100 comments on her post were of the opinion, "You can't. Delete [YouTube]."

That advice may give some parents pause. According to recent research from Common Sense Media, "for kids who are watching videos on YouTube, one in five videos viewed by children age 8 and under contained ads that often included pervasive and inappropriate advertising, violence, and other questionable content."

MORE: 'Stop letting YouTube raise your kids,' says mom in viral post

YouTube does offer YouTube Kids, set up in 2015 to provide an alternative for children. The option provides parents more tools to control and customize the experience for their families and bans certain advertising, like political ads. But some parents say inappropriate content still sneaks through.

Christina Elia is a mom to two kids, ages 5 and 7. In her experience, she told "Good Morning America," the content suggestions on YouTube and YouTube Kids are "way past their developmental age." She said she worries about what might be seen or heard because once it happens, "it can't be unseen. It can't be unheard."

For that reason, her kids are no longer allowed to view YouTube at all -- with one exception -- Cosmic Kids Yoga, watched under adult supervision.

Jeremy Tillman is the president of privacy company Ghostery and the parent of young children. "We need to think about these content streaming apps from a habits-building perspective and I often compare it to the situation we saw in the '50s with candy cigarettes," he told "GMA." And while he's wary of many apps and content streaming services, YouTube Kids he said, "tops that list."

In an emailed statement to "GMA", a YouTube spokesperson said, "Protecting kids and families is a top priority for us. Because YouTube is not for children, we’ve invested significantly in the creation of the YouTube Kids app, a destination made specifically for kids to explore their imagination and curiosity. We're encouraged by the report's findings that 63 percent of parents supervise their kids' experience on YouTube, but continue to recommend parents use YouTube Kids if they plan to allow kids under 13 to watch independently.”

For parents who are not ready to fully ban YouTube in their homes, some may opt to disable data collection on the app. "Especially during the past few months, I know it’s impossible to put a price on a few minutes of peace," Tillman said.

As alternatives, Tillman said parents looking for safe apps should search for Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)-certified seals which he advised are usually visible in the app store or in an app's privacy policy.

"You can also use tools that allow you to view or block trackers to check out what’s lurking on websites before you allow your child to use it," Tillman said. "I’ve specifically found that many e-learning sites host a lot of data collection trackers so you’ll want to block those before allowing your child to visit the site."

MORE: Momtroversy: These moms give their kids unlimited screen time

Marybeth Bentwood went "cold turkey" on YouTube and other apps when her daughter, now 7, was 3. "[She was] having a tantrum every time we removed the phone," Bentwood, the founder of Brand Elevation Communications, told "GMA." "We white-knuckled it with no phone and she eventually didn't ask for the phone. It worked for a few years."

Currently, her 7-year-old "does use the phone sometimes," but without YouTube, TikTok or social apps, said Bentwood.

"The inability to limit the content she could be exposed to was too great a threat. She uses the phone now for Netflix on occasion, a coloring app and an app that has gears and mechanisms she can connect and that's it."

When looking at the sample of online videos viewed on YouTube, 95% of early childhood videos include some form of advertising, and one in five videos viewed by children 8 and under contained ads that were not age-appropriate, according to Common Sense Media. Inappropriate ads included ones for violent video games, lingerie, alcohol and politics. Even in age-appropriate videos, inappropriate ads appeared 9% to 22% of the time.

As for the Elia kids, their mom said removing YouTube and limiting most screen time has been "hugely positive" and that her kids are more engaged, creative and interested in activities that don't involve devices. "The trade-off though," she said, "is that I have to be on duty more often"

As kids watch more YouTube, some parents consider deleting it all together originally appeared on goodmorningamerica.com