Parents worried about their kids and inappropriate YouTube content now have a handy parenting companion. The YouTube Kids app makes it easy to set up a walled-garden of kid-safe videos on any Android or iOS device.
What Is YouTube Kids?
YouTube is great because you can find videos about anything and everything under the sun. Whether you want to watch music videos, learn how to fix your antique sewing machine, laugh at comedy clips, or see game reviews, just about every subject makes an appearance in some form on YouTube.
That’s fantastic for curious adults, but not so fantastic for curious kids who might be exposed to age inappropriate content. Because of this, most parents have either steered their kids away from YouTube or watched apprehensively over their shoulders to ensure that their little tykes curious about Bob the Builder and My Little Pony didn’t lead them to inappropriate suggested video content.
Thankfully Google now has a kid-oriented app that keeps kids loaded up with lots of great YouTube content without the risk that they’ll end up watching violent news clips, swear-word laden Watch It Played videos, or other content inappropriate for small children.
Available for both Android and iOS, YouTube Kids offers a kid-friendly interface with age-appropriate content divided into four easy to navigate categories. And, naturally, it works great with the Google Chromecast and smart TVs that support casting.
YouTube Kids is definitely best suited for younger children as the simple interface and preschool/elementary oriented content and suggestions are heavily skewed towards the younger crowd.
How to Use YouTube Kids
The YouTube Kids app is simple to use once you have it up and running, but it helps have a good sense of what individual features accomplish (and where they may fall short). First thing first: search for the application in the app store on your iOS or Android device and install it.
Once installed, launch the app. After the brief splash screen, you’ll be introduced to the parental lock mechanism, seen below.
By default the passcode system is really only suitable for very small children as any kid who can read will easily decipher the random combination of numbers (like the “five, eight, one, one” seen above) generated each time you access the controls of the app. Fortunately you can change it to a set number with no prompt (which we’ll do in a moment).
After a few splash screens explaining some of the app’s features, you’ll be prompted to select the age group your child is in. The age group setting appears to have the most impact on the setup of the homescreen suggestions and (in our testing at least) didn’t seem to have a big impact on search results.
Speaking of search results, once you select the age group you’ll be prompted to turn in-app searching on or off. Even if your inclination is to turn it off with younger kids (which we’d suggest), don’t turn it off just yet. Even on a device used by small kids where you don’t want the search feature active, it’s actually very useful to keep it on during the first few sessions you use it with your child (more on that in a moment).
Padding the Suggested Videos
With the final selection made, you’ll be kicked into the home screen of the app. You can use the icons across the top of the screen to navigate. From left-to-right, the icons lead to suggested video content, music, educational videos, and a section called “explore” which is essentially a suggestion engine that links to new channels and content. You can scroll sideways in each section and then tap on any given video or channel to watch the content.
In the upper right corner of the screen, you’ll see the Chromecast casting icon and the search icon; in the lower right corner, you’ll find the parental lock/settings icon. We’re about to dive into the parental settings, but before you do, let’s use the search feature to see our kid’s experience with videos they like. The search feature plays a big role in seeding what the suggested videos are. If, for example, your kid loves Minecraft videos then you should start searching for Minecraft videos. Whatever their topic of interest you want to search heavily for it in the beginning to seed all the suggestions with good content.
Customizing the Settings
Once you’ve done that, you can hop into the settings menu by tapping on the padlock icon.
Within the settings menu, there are two pertinent entries: timer and settings. The timer setting is self-explanatory; you can set a timer for 1 to 120 minutes and after that the app locks until you enter the parent passcode.
Inside the Settings menu you’ll find a variety of toggles. In the Audio section, you can turn off the background music and sound effects (they might be delightful to kids but we’ll admit that the cutesy background music got annoying really quick).
You can also turn off casting. While casting is a really convenient way to get videos on your TV, you may want to disable this setting if your little tyke finds it hilarious to interrupt your TV watching with Sesame Street from the other room.
Disabling search will restrict your child to seeing just the suggested videos with no way to actively search for more. For young kids we suggest turning it off and occasionally using your parental passcode to activate it to search for new stuff with them (thereby further seeding the suggested videos). In the content controls section, you can also adjust the age of the child (if you selected preschool age during the initial setup and found the videos to be too young for your child you can bump their age bracket up here to see more content).
Finally, you can set a custom passcode (which we recommend for everyone but especially for those with kids who can read simple numbers and enter the code on their own) and clear the search history and recommendations. You likely won’t use the last function very often, but it’s useful for those times that the suggested video queue is cluttered up with content that you either don’t want your child to see or that they aren’t interested in.
With these tweaks in place, you can pass the device safely over to your child to let them run wild.
Locking Kids Into The App
If you have very young children (and most parents interested in YouTube Kids will be dealing with younger kids) it’s extremely useful to keep them pinned into the application if the device they’re on isn’t dedicated to kid-use.
The YouTube Kids app doesn’t have a toggle for locking kids into the app but, in fairness to development team, that’s not a shortcoming of the app as neither Android nor iOS allow individual apps that kind of take-over control of the device. Instead, if you’re interested in keeping the app front and center, you’ll need to lock down the app from the OS level.
Fortunately recent iterations of both Android and iOS allow for this kind of OS-level control of applications. You can read how to lock your child into a given application in our guide to securing your iOS device for kids and our guide to securing your Android device for kids.
Where YouTube Kids Falls Short
While we were overall impressed with the quality of the app and the simple controls, there are a few things about the YouTube Kids app to keep in mind.
First, the content is not curated, but algorithmically selected. That means that a human being is not deciding what content is age appropriate — an algorithm and a flagging system does it instead. As such, things can slip through the cracks (you can tap on any video and flag it for inappropriate content if this happens). In fairness, we tried our hardest to find really objectionable content through the app and failed. The algorithm did pull up some really weird videos though. When searching for “corn”, as a random and benign term, we found a bunch of videos from Cornell University including a video packed with tips from admissions counselors. The videos were certainly kid-safe, but come on: the app is recommended for ages 8 and under… who in that group is searching for college admissions tips?
Second, there is no way to subscribe to channels or create playlists. Given that this is a YouTube app, however-intended-for-children, that seems like a bit of an oversight. Kids love YouTube personalities as much as adults; there should be a way for them to subscribe to The Diamond Minecart or for the kids or parents to build playlists of favorite content. Unlike the first complaint, which is clearly a major design choice (because YouTube Kids is not striving to be nor does it claim to be hand curated) this second complaint really should be resolved in a future update of the app as a matter of usability improvement.
It’s not perfect, but for small children, YouTube Kids is a great app for providing age-appropriate on-the-go video content. Have questions about making devices kid-friendly or just kids and technology in general? Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to answer them.