Is your child constantly watching YouTube videos? You're not alone!

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Once in a blue moon, I head over to YouTube to look up videos of interest to myself, like movie trailers and supernatural footage. 

When I go into my account, the recommendations I receive have nothing to do with any of my interests, because my son uses my account to watch YouTube.

Instead of topics I’m into, I receive countless recommendations for blind box openings, gaming videos -- mostly Minecraft, in every theme available -- as well as surprise-egg videos.

YouTube’s got my kid’s number, and they’re more than happy to feed his obsession.

Safe Surfing on YouTube

Launched in 2015, YouTube Kids was created to become the leading internet destination for children’s video content.


A self-contained kid-content- haven, YouTube Kids curates all of the kid-friendly content, from the 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, and puts it in a single, safe and easily accessible platform.

Separated into four distinct categories -- Shows, Music, Learning and Explore -- YouTube Kids streamlines content surfing, but also features a search bar to help find specific items. When kids use the search tool, they are searching a filtered version of the YouTube database, so that only safe, age-appropriate content is served.

Heads up – in order to get age-appropriate videos, make sure to enter your child’s age when setting up a YouTube Kids account. This way, it will know what age-appropriate content to show to your child.

A feature I especially like is the ability to set a timer for app use, which of course, was my son’s least favorite feature of YouTube Kids. YouTube Kids offers several other parental control functions, such as the ability to disable the search function and set a cap on the volume (yay!).

The app doesn’t feature comment threads like the regular platform, so no need to worry there, but on the flip side, there are a ton of advertisements. This is a feature I loathe because the they are mainly toy commercials, which results in my being asked to buy toys non-stop.

After a brief stint on YouTube Kids, I switched over to the regular platform, but set the YouTube app to Restricted Mode, to help filter content. (FYI - you should always remember that app developers are not always experts in creating parental control software, which is why being extra savvy on the apps your child uses can help protect your family from being exposed to things you may not want them to see.)

If you need help trying to figure out which apps are safe for your child to use, visit our App Advisor.


It's All About the Algorithm

If you’re wondering how YouTube just knows what people want to watch, the answer is simple, and also partially explains why our preschoolers are so obsessed with the platform. YouTube features a recommendation algorithm, that analyzes an account’s search and viewing history -- including what you watch and how long you watch it -- and turns those results into recommendations.

For example, when my son was using YouTube Kids, he ended up getting addicted to watching “Daddy Finger” (in every language available) and toy unboxing/ surprise egg videos over and over (and over again). These videos are part of the reason we stopped using the Kids app -- I was just so tired of him watching them. I just assumed that my son was forming an unhealthy affection for the same types of videos, when the reality was two-fold. YouTube’s algorithm shows viewers recommended content by analyzing what they watch, and when the choices in front of our preschoolers are the same types of videos, they’ll naturally click on the next one, and the next one, and so forth. But, the other reason why our kids are obsessively watching these videos is because YouTubers are generating similar content to capitalize on what generates the most views, which means an overabundance of the same types of videos. In fact, successful YouTubers let analytics dictate the videos they create, and who can blame them -- they want views so that they can get paid. And if they’re successful, they get paid well, sometimes even earning six-figures or into the millions.


Glimpse Into a Preschooler's Brain

YouTube’s algorithm isn’t the only factor to blame in your preschooler’s obsessive content consumption, their brain has a lot to do with it.

When people talk about the terrible twos or threes, they’re referring to the tiresome battle of wills that begins when a child starts to realize his own autonomy. This was around the time when my son decided that life was better without the constraints of clothing, so it was often a battle to get dressed to get out the door to run errands, get to nursery school, etc. Time on the YouTube app gives our children autonomy by allowing them to call the shots. Our kids are free to scroll through videos and decide what they want to watch (within reason, of course), which is powerful to them. For once, they get to make the decisions, and it feels good. Most YouTube videos for kids come in short, easily digestible lengths which helps drive interest with the preschool-aged kids and toddlers. Combine the freedom to choose what to watch, with the ability to watch quick videos and scroll onto the next, and you’ve got something that appeals to our kids’ need for independence (and short attention spans).


Beware of YouTube Marketing

What’s your child’s favorite character? The year of four was the year of Paw Patrol in my house, and my son consumed every Paw Patrol video he could on YouTube, whether it was a cartoon segment, Paw Patrol-themed surprise egg video, or simply a pair of hands playing with Paw Patrol character figurines in one of the many playsets available.

Guess how many times I was asked for Paw Patrol toys last year? Don’t worry, I don’t know either because I was asked so many times. Think about it, it’s brilliant marketing. Toy reviewers do extremely well on YouTube because it’s a topic kids like -- TOYS! -- and it’s fun to discover new toys and how they work. 

The reality is that the top YouTube toy reviewers are being sent the toys they review, ensuring a captivated audience for brands willing to shell out money to sponsor YouTubers. And those top YouTubers have monetized channels, which means ads play at the beginning of each video, and at regular time intervals throughout. Who needs television commercials when you can easily reach our kids online?


Popular YouTube Channels for Kids

At the rate in which videos are uploaded to YouTube, it can be overwhelming to sift through the endless parade of videos on the platform.

The best advice in choosing channels for your child to surf, is to preview the channel and a handful of videos they post, to get a feel for their content and to gauge whether or not the content is appropriate for your family. Try to tread lightly, because what may be obnoxious to you may be what your child loves, which you can understand if you used to be a Barney fan (admit it). 

A great kid-focused YouTuber, is Blippi, who’s basically used his YouTube channel to create a short-segment children’s show. Blippi runs an educational channel, and is often out and about, creating lessons from the places he visits. The first time I saw the channel I was transfixed -- who was this person, and didn’t he feel weird being this character out in public?

If you’ve got a gamer or a Minecraft fan on your hands, consider checking out:
If you’re looking for recommended toy review channels, ToysReviewToys and Ryan Toys Review are both pretty solid.


About Lauren B. Stevens

Lauren B. Stevens is a writer, editor & digital parent, whose pieces have been published across the internet and featured in several print anthologies. Lauren lives in the Baltimore area with her husband and son, and enjoys spending her family time hiking and traveling.

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