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YouTube is a free video sharing and social networking app and website where users can view, comment, make and share videos on a range of topics. Videos uploaded to the platform are easy to share via other forms of social media and can also be embedded in other websites and content. With approximately 120 million daily active users consuming more than a billion hours of video every day, YouTube is one of the most widely used social media platforms in the world.
The minimum age for a YouTube account is 13, however it does not have any rigorous age verification.
This age applies to both viewing content and setting up a YouTube channel. Children between the ages of 13 and 17 are only allowed to open an account with parental permission.
Some videos on YouTube have an adult age restriction if YouTube deems them to contain potentially inappropriate content. These are only available to users who claim to be 18 years old or older according to their account details.
Find out more about age ratings in our ‘A parent and carer’s guide to age ratings of apps and games’.
How children and young people use the app
Young people can engage with this app in two keys ways: as a viewer of content and as a creator of content.
Viewers mainly watch and share videos on topics which interest them. This can be fun and entertaining for young people, especially if they can connect with other users in the comment section or in the channel’s general fan-base.
Creators set up their own YouTube channel and use this as a platform to share videos which they have made on topics of their choice. This gives young people a creative outlet to curate content with the potential incentive of becoming famous or wealthy from being a YouTuber, as many others have already done.
Key features and terminology
An online personality who produces content on YouTube
As with television, YouTube is made up of different channels. A channel is an account holder’s personal space where they can share the content that they have produced.
The comment section on YouTube allows users to leave comments on the videos they have watched, which can be read and responded to by the account holder who shared the content.
This stands for ‘Video blogs’, where users create and share videos on a range of popular topics, such as gaming and beauty. High-profile vloggers are often paid to use their influence to promote products or brands.
Video ‘Thumbnails’ let viewers see an image of what each video contains to help them select the most appropriate video to watch. It is important to note that even if a video is blocked to a user because they are under-18, they are still able to see a thumbnail image of the video, which may contain an image unsuitable for children.
‘Tags’ are descriptive keywords that you can add to your videos to help viewers find your content.
There is a designated area on YouTube where viewers can watch, make and upload live videos. This content is shared in real time without editing, but it is monitored in the same way as all other content on the platform.
These are in-video notifications that help promote a creator’s brand and their other videos. A teaser box appears during a video, and when clicked, will take the viewer to more content by the same creator.
This function allows users to search and view whatever they want without it appearing in their search or viewing history. Everything you do whilst in this mode is private.
A function to indicate a viewer’s feedback on a particular video. Likes and dislikes are indicated by ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ icons underneath the video that is playing. The number of likes the video has received are numbered but not the dislikes.
A function that allows a viewer to ‘Follow’ a channel and receive notifications when new content is added to the channel. Subscribed channels are listed on the viewer’s home page, making favourite channels easier to find.
A function that allows a viewer to share a video or channel via social media or email or with a link that can be pasted anywhere.
These are short-form videos lasting no longer than 60 seconds. ‘Shorts’ allow viewers to watch and interact with an endless stream of videos in the ‘Short feed’ on YouTube.
With such a wealth of videos available to choose from on YouTube, the risk of younger viewers finding or stumbling across inappropriate material is quite high if the necessary filters have not been enabled. Whilst the minimum age for an account is 13, the reality is that most of the content is aimed at older users. As well as deliberately searching for content that might be unsuitable, YouTube has a ‘Related videos’ feature that provides recommendations for further viewing based on the video playing, some of which may have only a vague relationship to the original content and/or might not be suitable for children. This algorithm will not recognise the age-appropriateness of the initial video and might produce recommendations that are adult-orientated and need only a click to play.
Alongside the risk of watching inappropriate videos, there is also the possibility of witnessing inappropriate comments which can be rude, bullying and hateful. Comments can be directed to the user who created the content or posted the video but also could be directed to other YouTube users posting their own comments. By restricting who your child can access on the platform (by enabling ‘Restricted mode’), your child is less likely to experience language or behaviour that is not suitable for their age. Whilst community guidelines are in place, the platform relies on users to report comments they deem inappropriate.
YouTube has a ‘Supervised accounts’ feature, which allows parents and carers to set up managed accounts for their children. YouTube created supervised accounts to provide an option for parents and carers to support ‘Tweens and teens’ under 13 as they develop their online independence and move on from YouTube Kids. Supervised accounts are linked to the adult’s Google account and provide content setting controls to restrict the videos and YouTube features that their child can access. Children with these accounts will not be able to upload videos or comments and they will have filters in place to restrict content.
Connecting with others
Once a video has been posted, other users can comment on it. It’s important your child understands that these comments can count as chatting online. Speak to your child about the risks of connecting with strangers and explain the importance of not sharing any personal or identifiable information on their profile or within chats. Remind your child to tell you if they have been asked more personal questions or to chat privately using a different app.
When users post video content on YouTube, the content is open to criticism from other users. The comment function on YouTube can make users susceptible to harassment and abuse. Whilst the app has community standards that all users must adhere to, make sure your child knows how to report and block users who behave inappropriately.
Videos can also be liked or disliked by viewers when they are posted – if your child receives dislikes, they may find it very upsetting. Make sure to speak to your child about how likes aren’t necessary reflective of the quality of their videos and that it should not devalue the way they see themselves or the content they’ve created.
If your child has their own YouTube channel, it is important for you and them to be aware of what they post and the impact this will have on their digital footprint. Have a conversation with them to help them understand what is and is not appropriate for them to share and discuss the various ways they can protect themselves by sharing in private rather than public forums. Ensure your child knows it can be difficult to keep ownership of a video once it has been shared online, as content can easily be copied and reposted without their knowledge and can then become difficult to remove from the internet.
Design, data and costs
YouTube is a free app, which means it generates revenue from advertising. Most videos begin with an advert and some channels will also include sponsored content. Despite vloggers having to disclose when a video features gifted products, this form of advertising may be difficult for viewers to understand Have a conversation about how advertising works your child before they begin exploring the app. Users who set up their own YouTube channels will also have to agree to a lengthy set of terms and conditions, which will not be drafted in a child-friendly way. Speak to your child about the role of ‘Terms and conditions’ (T&Cs) to help them understand what current and future rights they might be giving away.
Many YouTuber’s encourage their viewers to ‘Subscribe’ to their channel. Once a user subscribes, it means that any new videos or content it publishes will appear in your ‘Subscriptions’ feed and you will receive a notification when new content is posted. If your child has subscribed to lots of channels, they are likely to receive frequent notifications which can be very difficult for some younger users to manage. Explain to your child how the platform is designed to keep users engaged and work with your child to set realistic time limits and boundaries for using the app.
Tips for keeping your child safe
When uploading content onto the platform, the default setting is ‘Public’, which means any user on YouTube can view the video. Set their video uploads settings to ‘Private’ rather than ‘Public’. This way they need to approve all other users who wish to view their content.
To reduce the risk of your child seeing inappropriate videos, tell YouTube what you don’t want to see. Select the three dots next to the ‘Up next’ video title and select ‘Don’t recommend channel’. This will remove this channel from your feed.
To set videos to private:
- On the YouTube account, select ‘Settings’ then ‘Privacy’.
- Select each category that you wish to make private then choose ‘Save’.
Switching on ‘Restricted mode’ is recommended, which helps to filter out mature videos. Disabling the ‘Autoplay’ feature, to stop videos playing automatically after one has ended, is also suggested. To reduce the risk of your child seeing inappropriate videos, tell YouTube what you don’t want to see.
To enable ‘Restricted mode’:
- On the YouTube account, select ‘Settings’ then toggle the ‘Restricted mode’ option.
- Note: ‘Restricted mode’ needs to be set on each individual device, rather than it being account-wide.
To disable ‘Autoplay’:
- On the YouTube account, select ‘Settings’ then toggle the ‘Autoplay’ option.
To manage content:
- Select the three dots next to the ‘Up next’ video title.
- Select ‘Don’t recommend channel’, which will remove this channel from your feed.
To unsubscribe from a channel:
- Go to the channel you want to unsubscribe to.
- Under the video select’ Subscribed’ and choose ‘Unsubscribe’.
Deleting a YouTube channel will permanently delete the content from the platform. To do this, go to your channel, select ‘Advanced’and ‘Delete channel’.
Users can report and block other users who may be bothering them or behaving inappropriately on the platform.
To report a video:
- Below the video you wish to report, select the three dots icon and choose ‘Report’, following the onscreen instructions to complete.
To report a comment:
- Go to the comment you wish to report, select the three dots icon and choose ‘Report’, following the onscreen instructions to complete.
The YouTube app has a ‘Time watched’ section within your account, where you can monitor your usage, but also set different tools to help manage your YouTube time. You can also set reminders to help encourage breaks from the platform.
To enable ‘Time watched’:
- On the YouTube account, select the ‘Time watched’ option and use the toggle buttons to set reminders for ‘Breaks’ and ‘Bedtime’.
To set reminders:
- Go to your profile and select ‘Settings’ and then ‘General’.
- Toggle on the options for
- Remind me to take a break (set your reminder frequency from the pop-up menu).
- Remind me when it’s bedtime (set your bedtime from the pop-up menu).
To manage notifications:
- Go to your profile and select ‘Settings’.
- Scroll to ‘Notifications’ and select the notifications you want to receive from
- Recommended videos
- Watch on TV
To manage adverts:
- Go to your profile and select ‘Settings’.
- Scroll to ‘History and privacy’ and toggle off the option for ‘Allow personalised ads’.
YouTube Kids is a separate version of YouTube, available as a free Android and iOS app and set up by a parent or carer with a Google account. The ‘Premium’ version available as part of a parent or carer’s paid Google subscription is ad-free. YouTube Kids is designed to provide a supervised space for younger viewers to explore a diverse but smaller selection of age-appropriate video content that is easier and safer to navigate. YouTube Kids provides searchable access to the main YouTube video database but filtered by YouTube to allow only child-safe content, suitable for children from pre-school to age 12. Parents and carers can control the videos they want their child to access by using one of four content settings. The ‘Approve content yourself’ option allows parents and carers to hand-pick the content they want their child to see. The three age-based options are Preschool (ages 4 and under), Younger (ages 5–8) and Older (ages 9–12). YouTube Kids also has controls that allow parents and carers to disable the search function, restrict sound volume and set a timer to limit the time a child can spend using the app. To protect children from inappropriate content, YouTube kids does not provide access to the comment function seen in the main app and the like/dislike feature is disabled. YouTube Kids also allows parents and carers to block channels that they do not want their child to access and to report any inappropriate content that evades the YouTube filters.
YouTube has a parental control guide for YouTube Kids. This outlines your settings and controls as a parent, explains how to customise your child’s experiences on YouTube Kids and how to manage content settings. It also includes information for YouTube creators about a new choice for parents and carers which allows their children to access YouTube through a supervised account.
YouTube has introduced a ‘Go live together’ feature, which allows live streamers on the platform to invite a guest to join their livestream. ‘Go live together’ is eligible for users aged 13-17 that have more than 1000 subscribers to their channel.
Help your child subscribe to channels you feel comfortable with. This will produce a feed of safe videos for your child to browse in the ‘Subscriptions’ area of YouTube.
Be mindful that your child may use ‘Incognito mode’ to hide their viewing history from you if you regularly check their viewing and search history. Talk to your child and take an interest in their viewing habits to help reduce the likelihood of them hiding their viewing history.
YouTube Music is a music streaming service that replaced Google Play Music in 2020. YouTube Music is available for Android, iOS and desktop and provides a tailored interface for streaming music, allowing users to browse through songs and music videos based on genres, playlists and recommendations. YouTube Music is free to download and use but also has a paid ‘Premium’ membership that is ad-free and allows the user to download music to listen offline. YouTube Music can be linked to Google-compatible smart devices and speakers. YouTube Music is not available to users under the age of 13 because the huge catalogue of available music inevitably includes some explicit content in the form of song lyrics and album art, which potentially creates risk for younger users. Like the main YouTube app, YouTube Music has a ‘Restricted mode’ that filters out songs with explicit lyrics or mature content. ‘Restricted mode’ is activated in settings and blocks music and videos that Google has labelled with an ‘E’ for explicit content. Google has announced that YouTube Music will become available through the ‘Supervised accounts’ feature that will allow parents and carers to control the content that can be accessed via the app to create an age-appropriate music listening experience.