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What Kids are Really Watching on YouTube (and how parents can deal with it)

“What are they doing on YouTube anyway?”

Your kid has been staring at his tablet for hours. When you ask what he’s watching, he answers “YouTube.” When he first logged on, you saw him watching another kid unwrapping some brand new toys on YouTube. Thirty minutes later, you hear your child laughing hysterically. You wonder, “What is he watching now? Is that toy video really that hilarious?” Just like we find ourselves browsing the internet or working away only to realize we have 14 open browser tabs, the same happens to our kids.

 

How can I deal with YouTube? Or what are the parental controls for YouTube? Or…How can I get my kid off YouTube? These are among the most common questions I hear from parents when I speak in communities. You check back in after an hour, and wonder, “Why are you watching that?”  Even YouTube Kids has been criticized for inappropriate content such as recommending disturbing videos and pornography. Ugh!  Recently the Google-owned app has released parental controls that let parents select trusted channels and topics for your child to access such as “learning,” or, “education.” Parents can even set a maximum number of channels to help customize a kid’s YouTube experience and keep them from falling down a rabbit hole of video content. But before you start setting up controls, you want to understand what your child is interested in some of the challenges they might run into. And if they want to start their own channel…that is another big conversation (or two or three.)

 

You might be wondering what they’re watching on there. Here are a few popular channels and YouTubers your  kids might be into:         

          

(sourced from my local parent community) 

  • Dude Perfect
  • Khan Academy
  • PewDiePie   
  • Britain’s Got Talent
  • The Miles Chronicles (LGBTQ+)
  • LadyLike (makeup, fashion, and product tests)
  • Troom Troom (pranks and crafts)
  • Liza Koshy
  • Roblox videos
  • Game Theory
  • James Charles (makeup)
  • FUNnel Vision
  • Casey Neistat
  • FGTeeV
  • David Dobrik
  • Cody Ko

 

Parents have a love-hate relationship with YouTube

YouTube is a fantastic learning tool. Whether you’re looking up how to tie a Windsor knot, how to remove ants, or how to make the perfect souffle, you can find a video for just about anything you’re seeking to learn. One mom, Charlotte says, “I Love YouTube! It’s the new Encyclopedia Britannica! Unfortunately, you can also see disturbing things as well, so I have to monitor and prepare the kids not to believe everything they see and hear. I’d definitely let them create a YouTube channel if it was for something good.”

On the other hand, we’ve all had experiences with how disturbing some of the content can be. Some sick people are clearly attempting to get young children to view pornography by using characters that kids would like, with content that is not for kids. Kate says, “I had to ban YouTube for my 4-year-old daughter right about the time I found the ‘Spiderman Effs Elsa’ and ‘Spiderman Pees on Elsa’ channels playing while she looked on, confused. Sick people out there and it’s not worth having YouTube if there is even a chance for her to come across the Elsa rape scene again. I was SICKENED.”

Other parents have mentioned Pokemon and other anime channels that appear to be OK but when they dig further, parents describe it as ”basically softcore cartoon porn.” Parents are worried, because one wrong click and your child has seen things they can’t unsee.

Another parent, Nina, didn’t like all the materialism for young kids. She said, “My daughter is way too into toy videos. She’s only four and has been begging to make toy videos and put them on YouTube. Part of me is considering letting her do it, but I also don’t want her getting deeper into that nonsense. For older kids, I think having a YouTube channel is fine, as long as the parent helps manage it.”

A few parents have mentioned new behaviors elicited from their kids that they didn’t particularly like that seem to be inspired by YouTube. For instance, Celi said, “My almost 7-year-old was loving YouTube Kids way too much! She was mostly watching commercials about Shopkins, and then Surprise Dolls became an obsession. She talked about how rare some were and actually stole one from another kid at school! That was all it took for us to ban YouTube kids in our home. Maybe when she’s older and better able to manage, but for now I’d rather have her doing more and watching less.” 

 

Conversation starters with kids

As your kids are getting started with finding videos they enjoy on YouTube, set up some ground-rules early on. You might want to consider allowing just a few channels to start. These will be channels that you’ve personally watched together with your kids to make sure they’re age-appropriate and suitable for your child. If your child has been watching YouTube for a while and you’re just getting the conversation started now, here are some ideas to get your kids to engage in a valuable discussion:

  • Tell me about what you’re watching on there. What do you like about it?
  • Why do you think he/she likes making these videos?
  • Have you seen any videos you didn’t like? What didn’t you like about them?

Remember to ask questions in a non-confrontational way and to make sure you’re not ready to judge them to help create a safe space for your children to share.

 

More YouTube Parent Strategies

One mom said her 10-year-old son mostly watches video gamers and subscribes to channels under her account, so she sees exactly what he’s doing because the updates wind up in her email. Other parents pre select a bunch of youtube videos with or their kids or on their own and then give their kids the choice to just watch those. Some parents make playlists with prescreened, approved videos. You may want to check out these YouTube reviews by Common Sense. Some parents only let kids explore on YouTube when they can be with them, or at least in the same room…and others may even restrict YouTube so that kids can only use it with adult supervision. If you choose to do this, it is no substitute for mentoring. Look for interesting channels and individuals to follow with your kids. Talk with them about the “suggestions” they see and why they should pursue a more intentional set of choices, and not let an algorithm choose their next view. 

Whether or note you choose parental controls, you’ll still need to talk with your child about how to use YouTube appropriately on other devices and in other settings, and offer guidance on navigating the waters of YouTube when you are together! 

You found your child watching inappropriate content—now what?

This rule applies to more than just offensive YouTube content and is an excellent rule for all of the tricky parenting moments—don’t freak out. Freaking out is always a terrible idea, and in the case of kids accidentally (or even intentionally) landing on naughty or just plain weird YouTube content that’s not appropriate could lead to confusion down the road. Approach these situations with curiosity and ask how they ended up watching the video. Talk about how the video(s) made them feel, and if something isn’t appropriate for their eyes, calmly explain why and let them know how to handle it if they land on it again.

Use the opportunity to listen and learn from your child It may have been recommended as a video to watch next, and naturally, they clicked on it and started watching, maybe even unsure what they were looking at. It’s in these parenting moments, you might identify areas where you want to rethink where they watch videos (or with whom.) You may also want to start viewing content with them and discuss what they like and what they don’t about the channels they’re watching.

YouTube can be both inspiring and educational for all of us. It can teach us how to make a new recipe, or how to build a treehouse. Approaching it with curiosity and a healthy dose of  mindful attention can help your children learn to do the same. 

 

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How to Talk to Other Parents About Their Child: New Rules for the Digital Age

What happens when one of your kid's friends is doing something inappropriate with social media or the Internet? Having that "uncomfortable conversation" may not be fun, but looking out for each others' kids is good for all of us as parents.

Read more

“Kids Don’t Understand Privacy Anymore”

A common refrain that I hear from parents that today’s kids “have no regard for privacy!” Their evidence? A teenager’s “rant” on Facebook. An inappropriate divulgence via Twitter. A photo that would be better deleted than shared.

I still remember walking home from 7th grade when a friend said she hated her parents. I had never dared to think something like that, let alone say it aloud. I rolled it around in my head. As I got to know her, I realized she had good reason to be deeply angry with her folks. But communicating her truth to me was private and profound. Now consider the same message, but this time, conveyed via social media. “I hate my parents” could easily be taken as light-hearted or a joke—or it could be much more serious than that.

The fact is that these two “social spaces” are vastly different. The issue is not that kids don’t have a sense of privacy, but instead a lack of understanding about how to manage each one of these terrains. Teaching kids how to manage these distinctions is tricky.

All of this centers around a strong set of values—which parents and other mentors, can model for kids. The new world of social media does mean we all get to ignore our values, but it does require us to help young people navigate how their ideas get filtered and shared through these new means of communication. For instance, you have a sense of when it’s OK to resolve an issue via e-mail, but you also understand when it’s best to have a face-to-face discussion. The issue for kids is no different at its core—it’s just the medium that’s different. The challenge for you lies in the nuances of each communication mechanism, be it Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Stick to your core values. It is OK to emphasize things such as loyalty, but show your kids the difference between the the ways we communicate.

Take for example a situation where you are angry with a friend. You need to vent. You call another friend of yours and do just that. You unload all the details. You feel better. Yes, there’s a risk in this—the “venting” conversation might get back to the first friend. But imagine how different that would be if you instead vented about your friend on your blog or Tumblr—and she discovered the post 3 weeks later? The issue may actually have been resolved in person by now—but social media will “remember.” For all intents and purposes, it’s a permanent record—even though it feels ephemeral.

This is incredibly challenging for kids to understand. So what can you do?

  • Set a social media policy for your family, what can be shared and not shared. Talk about it directly.
  • Walk through hypothetical situations, using real friends and family. That way, your kids will understand it in the context of real empathy and real emotions.
  • Have your kids look for and point out to you things that their peers are doing “wrong.”  This will get them to cast a critical eye on social interactions, using real examples. It gives you a good sense of their judgement.
  • If your child does complain about you on social media, DON’T return the favor. Criticizing your child in your own social media posts is always the wrong way to go. Don’t shoot your child’s laptop.  Do explain why airing this kind of grievances publicly is NOT a good way to resolve family conflict. Look for alternate ways to re-establish trust and communication.

In the comments, please share your experiences with kids and privacy. How do you teach your kids, or your students to understand what to share, where to share and how to communicate their thoughts and feelings with regard to their own privacy as well as privacy for others.

 

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Spy vs. Spyware: Should You Monitor Your Kids’ Digital Communication?

To Spy or Not to Spy: New Parenting Issues in the Digital World

Many parents ask me—should I spy on my kids or is that an invasion of privacy? Apps like “My Mobile Watch Dog” and “TeenSafe” give parents the power to read all their kids’ texts. But then what? I tell parents: Mentoring is more powerful than monitoring.

Spy vs. Spyware: Should You Monitor Your Kids’ Digital Communication?I always start by examining their goals. What is your objective? What are you looking for? What do you hope to see or NOT to see? What would be a yellow flag to you? What about a red flag?

It helps to understand your own goals before you take action. Has there been an incident that spurred a spying strategy? Or is it a general fear about what your child could be doing—because you don’t know about it?

In addition to looking at your goals, set a plan before you start. Think about what your response will be if or when you encounter:

  • Bad (or inappropriate) language;
  • Negative talk about other kids;
  • Negative talk about adults or teachers;
  • Negative talk about you or other parents.
  • Inappropriate pictures.

When you put all these together, it’s easy to see why this is such a source of stress for families. Do you wish there was a course on this? After years of research and talking with families, I’ve  created:

 Cell Phone Boot Camp (for parents)

This is an online class this summer for families who are getting their child a phone this year, or are in the first year with a phone and want to decrease conflicts and improve family communication about the phone.

This course will cover:

  • Assessing your family’s current digital situation
  • Planning and organizing your physical space at home to maximize positive outcomes
  • Common digital citizenship challenges for new smartphone users
  • What social skills kids need to be successful with their phones and more.
  • Planning for boundaries around when your child will have access to the device

 

Sign Me Up!

 

Mentoring vs. Monitoring: Be honest with yourself about your goals

The new digital world that our kids inhabit leaves parents feeling like they have less and less control to do the work of parenting. A natural inclination is to take some control back. Impose rules on device use, or monitor kids’ activities. After all, how can we have influence over them if we feel like they are isolated from us?

While this can be effective (and maybe even necessary), let me make a brief case for mentoring rather than monitoring.

  • First of all, if you are covert about your spying, you could lose the opportunity for mentoring. You may feel that it’s your right as a parent, but your child will see it as a breach of trust. When this happens, your child may “close off” or feel that she has to be sneaky now. In other words, you could actually do more damage by spying, and have the opposite effect of what you intend.
  • Plus, your kids may already be on to you. They are clever, and I’ve seen a few kids go to great lengths to evade covert spying. For instance, keeping and managing two Instagram accounts—a “family-friendly” one and another “real” account, using a fake/code name. You can usually tell which one is real by their engagements with other kids, etc.
  • Speaking of other kids, spying on your child’s communication means that you are reading other kids’ communications, too. There are a lot of issues around that, from invasion of privacy to assumed responsibility. Do you tell the other parent up front, or wait until an issue arises? What if another parent is reading your child’s communications to their kid? Would you want them to call you about your child’s communication? To my point about goals, it really helps think these things through in advance.
  • You may never see your kids’ friends the same way if you are reading their texts. Or your own. Are you ready?

What if you decide to spy?

If you do spy—and there are some situations, including new stages of experience (i.e. first time users) that may warrant this—then here are a few tips:

  • Be honest. Tell your kids up front that you are going to be watching, and why you feel you need to do this. Demonstrate to them how your relationship will be better and more open because of this. After all, you are being honest with them—not covert.
  • Show how it will help. Tell your kids that you are going to help them understand how to communicate better. Socializing via text and social media is complicated, and you’ll help them navigate it. Assure them that they won’t lose their own style of communicating.
  • Set a duration. Be clear that if they meet your expectations in how to communicate, that you will feel the need to check less frequently or you will stop completely unless you sense there is serious trouble and your child isn’t telling you.
  • Create an alternative. Instead of spying, are you open to having them give you a tour of their social media accounts once a month?
  • Raise a flag. Have your child point out to you when they get a message that’s not appropriate. Prompt them, if necessary. If they learn to do this on their own, not only can you use the opportunity to teach them, but you’ll also be building up your trust in your child as well.

What if you see something you don’t like?

Suppose you see something you don’t like. An inappropriate picture exchanged, mean or hurtful words about a classmate, or worse—an accusation or threat. What do you do?

  • First, try not to over-react. You could be missing a lot of context by seeing this one infraction. I’m not saying not to take it seriously—just make sure you remain calm and think it through before reacting. You have to tread very carefully, and it helps to have a strategy.
  • Ask, don’t accuse. You need more context to assess the situation and make good decisions. Ask some open-ended questions about what’s going on, rather than confronting your child directly.
  • Assess and take action. How serious is the situation, and how urgent is it? For instance, if you have reason to believe your child is being bullied, in an abusive relationship, or getting threatening texts from a peer (or an adult), you need to act immediately. But if we are talking about the everyday social dramas of elementary, middle, and even high school, it is more helpful to be supportive and not overbearing.
  • Teach “repair.” It’s ideal if the child can fix the issue on his/her own, and your mentoring can really help here. Teach your child that if a post or text message upsets them, it is better to calm down and speak to the person directly (if possible), or to seek help from a parent or other adult if the situation is too serious to handle on their own.

Building a strong, honest, and open relationship with your child is the best defense against the “digital issues” your family faces day to day. Protection apps like “Phone Sheriff” (and hundreds of other similar apps) are simply no match for your experience, and won’t help your child develop good judgment in communicating. Issues are an opportunity for learning—for you and your child!

 

PS: Getting Your Child a Phone? Are you ready? Are they ready? Join my Cell Phone Boot Camp to get ready to support them through this important transition. Would you like informative posts about raising kids in the digital in your inbox by the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive and Survive in Their Digital WorldSign up here.

Photo credit: “Looking For Clues” by Casey Fleser is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Perplexed Parent: What to Do When Your Child Wants to Use a Social App You’ve Never Heard Of

Perplexed parent: “My child wants to use tbh, Instagram, WhatsApp, Live.ly, Sarahah, Snapchat, Yellow, Kik, Musical.ly, Houseparty, Marco Polo,  (insert latest, greatest app here). I’ve never heard of half of these, don’t know what they do, and am not even sure what my yes or no means! Guidance, please?”

Dr. Devo:  Yep, totally get it.  You feel like a Wack-a-Mole trying to stay on top of it all! It IS overwhelming to keep up with.   That’s why I’ve made it my mission to be your mentor and guide and help you wade through the tech jungle that is your child’s world.  Next time you are faced with this kind of plea from your digital native, try these steps:

Internet safety, tween angst, app overload, "perplexed parent", tween apps, teen apps, teens and smartphones, digital toddlers, too many apps, which apps to let kid download, 1.  WADE IN

Ask.   Invite your child to tell you everything he or she knows about the app and why she wants the app.  (besides because “all my friends are on it.”) What is the attraction to her? How will he use it?  Is it a social app? A game? How much personal information is shared? How do people act in that space? How does it make people feel?  Make it a prerequisite to download or purchase that you and she will sit down and interact with it – together.

Consult. Ask a local “expert” for advice. This can be anyone– an older kid, the babysitter, your college-aged niece. Find a reliable young person a few years older than your own kid to give you the down low.

Investigate.  Talk to someone like me. Or see what the reviewers at Common Sense Media have to say. Or ask the parents in your parenting Facebook group.

2. GO DEEPER

 

Instagram

If you want to know more about what people do on Instagram, you can go to the to Instagram #explore and look around.

Try searching for monkeys, kittens, Justin Bieber or try something naughtier–what might your 12 year old search for? Yes, I know kids are supposed to be 13 to use most social apps, including Instagram, but many kids have Instagram accounts before this birthday!

Know what’s out there, but don’t assume that just because there is instaporn that your child knows this or wants to see it. Just because inappropriate content can be found on an app, doesn’t mean that is what your son or daughter is looking for…but do remember that user generated content is not rated the way movies would be…and that most of these companies are WAY to small to adequately screen content.

Snapchat

Want to see some actual snapchats kids are sending? Here are a few tamer ones from twitter: (there are quite a few I don’t feel comfortable posting here) 

 

And of course, you can always download the app and try it yourself. As a general rule, social apps that skew toward anonymity (like Sarahah, Ask.fm, After School, and some others) seem most likely to harbor mean behaviors. Human beings don’t seem to do their best when anonymously responding to others.

3. ENGAGE

If you are thinking about giving the thumbs up after doing research, here are some questions to discuss with your child:

  • Ask him to show you an example of someone’s post in the app that he doesn’t think is appropriate and one he thinks is smart and cool.
  • Work with your child to generate a list of do’s and don’ts for the new app.
  • For a social app, what is the criteria for connecting with someone?
  • What is the potential for drama? Can they give an example of how to avoid drama?
  • How much time will she be allowed to spend using the app, and under what conditions?
  • What privacy settings will he use?
  • Is having her password a condition of use?  Being “friends” or “following” her?
  • How will he decide what can be shared or not shared?
  • Does she know how to avoid “geotagging” herself, leaving a trail of data?

Wading in, going deeper and then having an honest discussion with your child is a great way to keep up with the apps she’s using and make sure what she downloads is safe and fun. If the app seems to be dialing up stress, taking away from other pursuits (sleep, homework, family time) or is having any other negative effects, then it is time to rethink.

 

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You can also follow me on Facebook or Twitter to make sure you don’t miss other posts. I’d love to read your comments. Have you tried this with your children? How did it go?