By Aaron Thornton, Managing Director, Dial a Nerd

For many parents, technology can be a saving grace when it comes to providing children with easily accessible (and free) entertainment. Armed with internet-connected iPads or smartphones, kids can remain entranced for hours on end by playing games, watching videos, engaging with others on social platforms, using learning apps, and much more.

Parents can enjoy a breather, while kids can remain endlessly engaged in the digital sphere…

Today, however, parents are likely aware of the dark side to this ‘free’ entertainment, and the strong possibility of children accidentally ending up on inappropriate sites or consuming content that is harmful or disturbing.

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YouTube, in particular, can become a true rabbit hole once users start clicking on the ‘recommended’ content that is listed on the right hand side of the screen – and leaving a child unsupervised to watch Peppa Pig or Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom can quickly see him or her ending up somewhere where children really shouldn’t be!

‘Controlling’ the environment

The good news is that, having recognised the dangers, YouTube has created YouTube Kids “YT Kids” – an app which allows you, as the parent, to input your child’s age and then rely on what the platform has pre-filtered as being age appropriate.

The YT Kids app is divided into four content categories, namely: “Recommended”, “Shows”, “Music”, and “Learning”

These categories feature curated selections of content from channels that have been deemed appropriate for children.

The most important aspect of the YT Kids app is the parental control

Arguably, the most important aspect of the YT Kids app is the parental control: it features various control settings that allow parents to set time limits and restrict users from accessing the search tool. Also, parents can use a passcode or their Google account to protect these settings and to configure profiles for multiple users and children in different age brackets.

As we have seen all too often, however, there are always flaws in every ‘solution’ and technology can become its own worst enemy – particularly when functions become automated.

In 2017, a fiery Medium post which highlighted the abundance of disturbing children’s content on YouTube went viral, provoking media scrutiny which focused on YouTube’s dependence on automated systems to moderate videos.

In response, YouTube stated that “content featuring inappropriate use of family characters”, such as twisted Peppa the Pig knockoffs, would be age-restricted (not permitted on YouTube Kids) and ineligible for advertising.

While apps such as YouTube Kids are undoubtedly doing a good job of filtering nasty content, it is still critical for parents to remain actively involved and aware when children are engaged online

2018 saw the introduction of a new “trusted channels” feature

Last year, YT Kids also announced a new “trusted channels” feature, whereby parents can choose from collections of curated videos that have been picked by YouTube Kids and its partners.

When announcing the host of new features, which also included ‘improved search-off control’, the company stated:

“While no system is perfect, we continue to fine-tune, rigorously test and improve our filters for this more open version of our app. And, as always, we encourage parents to block and flag videos for review that they don’t think should be in the YouTube Kids app. This makes YouTube Kids better for everyone.”

While apps such as YouTube Kids are undoubtedly doing a good job of filtering nasty content, it is still critical for parents to remain actively involved and aware when children are engaged online. As with parenting, the use of technology demands a healthy balance between control and autonomy!

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