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Social media is a phenomenon that has transformed the lives of many people all over the world. It is the collective name for digital applications (known as apps) that are used to communicate, share and interact with media, and to be entertained. Social media platforms can only be accessed on a digital device that has a connection to the internet, as all of the platforms are online.
This means that they can be accessed at home or on the go on a laptop, computer, mobile phone, or tablet. There are many different social media platforms that you may have heard of. One of which is YouTube (which will be the focus of this parents’ guide). YouTube is used by a staggering 78% of the UK population, which shows how popular social media platforms can be, especially among the younger generation.
Social media has brought much joy to society. By simply creating a free account, users can communicate with friends and family all over the world, by text, phone, video calls, and through media interaction. During times of uncertainty over the past year, this has certainly been a strong positive of using social media. As well as this, users can learn or be entertained on the platforms from the media that other people share.
There are many social media accounts that share tutorials or comical media that can be enjoyed by anybody. In the younger generation, it is even becoming more popular than watching television. Ofcom found that children aged between 5 and 15 years old spend over two hours online per day. However, with this comes the risk of inappropriate content being consumed.
Social media has a huge reach, so the content shared by one person can reach millions of viewers. This can present dangers if the content is inappropriate and not flagged by the platform regulators. Another risk is the ability to easily contact users on the platform.
Without the correct level of security in place, any user can be contacted by another social media user, which opens up the risk of cyberbullying, grooming, and more. This makes it essential to understand how to use each social media platform, and the dangers of doing so. You can find out about the functions and dangers of the YouTube platform in this guide for parents.
What is YouTube?
YouTube is one of the most popular social media platforms used by young people, with over 80% of teenagers and young people using the app regularly. It is a video sharing platform that allows users to either upload videos to share with users, or watch videos shared by others. Unlike other social media apps, it is not compulsory to create an account to use the platform. This means that even if you do not have an account, you can still search for and view videos on the app.
The video topics are extremely wide ranging, so there is something for everybody on the platform. Users can watch beauty tutorials, learn how to play an instrument, watch animal videos, funny videos, and more. When you create an account, you can upload your own videos, and subscribe to content creators on the platform to easily find their uploads.
You can also be notified of their future uploads so that you do not miss a video. As well as this, you can interact with videos using likes and comments. In the comments sections, viewers with a YouTube account can write, in text form, the comments they wish to share relating to the video.
When you subscribe to a YouTuber, you become their follower. There is no limit to the amount of YouTubers that you can subscribe to, and it is common for most people to follow their favourite YouTubers as this makes it easier to find their videos. YouTubers who upload content aim to gain followers with the videos they upload in order to become monetised (which means they can start to be paid by YouTube).
The younger generation, in particular, can be extremely influenced by popular YouTubers. Some successful influencers have millions of followers who will watch every single one of their uploads. Whilst some videos do ask users to formally verify their age if the content is not appropriate, this does not happen for all videos. This means that anybody can watch most YouTube videos, which can present many dangers.
However, one way that YouTube has responded to protect young users is by making a separate app, called YouTube Kids. YouTube Kids has been created by the YouTube brand, but it is a completely separate app. It helps children to stay safe online with greater oversight from parents.
What are the dangers?
As with all social media apps, there are dangers to young people who use the apps.
With YouTube, there are many dangers that parents should be aware of, including:
- Explicit content – A lot of videos uploaded to YouTube contain content that is only appropriate for older age groups. This includes language such as swear words, inappropriate song lyrics, violence, and sexualised behaviour.
Although YouTube does have a policy to remove harmful content that violates their requirements, the sheer volume of videos on the platform means that often inappropriate videos can get missed. It also uses demonetisation as a form of content control. This means that an uploaded video can get demonetised if it contains inappropriate content. Although this is taking steps to deter content creators from uploading inappropriate content, it does not stop them completely.
YouTube has incorporated a “four R’s” approach to regulating the videos that are uploaded to the platform, which are:
– Remove harmful content as quickly as possible
– Reduce the spread of harmful content
– Raise authoritative sources of news and information
– Reward trusted creators and artists.
- Cyber bullying though YouTube comments – The comments section on YouTube can often be a place of negativity, where people share hateful comments towards each other. These can be directed at the video creator or directed to another user who has written a comment. Like other social media platforms, YouTube provides the ability to reply to comments in a thread (which is often where arguments in comments begin).
- Related videos – On the right-hand pane of the screen (on a laptop or computer), or below the video (on a small portable device), YouTube offers suggested videos to its users. This means that YouTube will suggest similar videos for you to watch next. Although this may seem helpful, YouTube does not always get this correct and may suggest other “off topic” videos that can lead to more inappropriate videos being found. YouTube also has a function to “auto play” the next video, which can easily get users hooked into watching hours of videos in one sitting.
- Challenge videos – There are often trends that circulate social media that encourage users to complete challenges. The challenges can be extremely harmful, and some videos can even target children specifically. For example, a child could watch a video that appears to be a popular cartoon, but included in the video can be harmful messages encouraging children to complete dangerous tasks.
- Misinformation – YouTube, as with many social media apps, can be home to a lot of fake news or misinformation. The younger generation are increasingly likely to turn to their favourite YouTubers or influencers for their views on what is happening in the world; but content creators on YouTube cannot be classed as reputable sources.
YouTube safety tips
Although there are many dangers that YouTube brings, there are plenty of ways that you, as a parent, can support your children to use YouTube safely.
We have included some of the most effective safety tips to support parents to keep their children safe on YouTube below:
- YouTube Kids – YouTube Kids is an app built for children to use, instead of the original YouTube app. You can set YouTube Kids up as a parent which effectively means that you can share your child’s account and have more assurance over what content they have access to. YouTube Kids has built-in filters to ensure that all content available is age appropriate and safe for your child. You just need to add your email address to create an account.
- Watch videos with them – One of the best ways to understand how your child uses social media is to use it with them as an activity to do together. Instead of watching television together, you can ask your child to put on their favourite YouTuber to gain an idea of the type of content they are watching.
- Subscribe effectively – If your child is subscribed to their favourite YouTubers, it is less likely that they will come across harmful content. This is because YouTube will suggest more of the YouTubers’ content for your child to view, meaning that your child is less likely to explore new videos themselves.
- Check their history – If you have access to your child’s YouTube account, you can check their watch history. This is a list of previously watched videos that your child has viewed. You can check these to ensure the videos are safe for your child to view.
- Tailor the suggested videos – The suggested videos on YouTube are calculated using an algorithm, as opposed to a manual suggestion based on your child’s watch history. This means that the wrong type of content can be shown in the suggested list. If you or your child ever notices inappropriate videos in this list, you can click on the three dots next to the video in question, and select “not interested”, which will remove the video from the list.
- YouTube Premium – YouTube Premium is a paid YouTube service that people subscribe to so that ads are removed from the videos that they are watching. Some YouTube videos can contain a lot of ads that, at times, may not be appropriate for your child. YouTube Premium allows users to watch videos ad free, as well as view exclusive content.
- Private profiles – If your child is uploading content onto YouTube, they can make their profile private, which means that only those they invite can view their video and it will not be made public. This reduces the risk of hateful comments being left on their video. There is also the option to report and block users that have left hateful comments on videos to ensure that they are prevented from doing so in future.
- YouTuber – Somebody who uploads videos to YouTube.
- Channel – A person’s YouTube profile, where you can find their videos, playlists, and “about me” section.
- Subscriber – Somebody who clicks “subscribe” and follows a YouTuber.
- Bell – The bell button can be pressed on YouTubers who you subscribe to, so that you can be notified when their next video has been uploaded.
- Follower – A person who is subscribed to a YouTuber.
- Ad – An advert included in a YouTuber’s video (similar to a television advert).
- Collab – When a YouTuber teams up with another YouTuber, or brand, to work on a video or project.
- Thumbnail – The picture that is displayed next to the name of the video during your search.
- Vlog – A video blog where a person records aspects of their life and shares it in a video.
- GRWM – This stands for Get Ready With Me and is a popular type of video on YouTube.
- Haul – This is when a YouTuber shows what they have bought from a shop or from an online order. This is also a popular type of video.
- Like Comment Subscribe – These three words are often said at the beginning or end of a video by the YouTuber to encourage viewers to interact with the video.
In this parents’ guide to YouTube, we have explained the basics of social media and the functions of YouTube, including its dangers, and safety tips. We always advise parents to be cautious when allowing their children to use social media, due to the lack of regulation in the online world.
Children are only advised to use social media if they are aged 13 or older, as young people can particularly fall victim to the dangers of using social media (which is why we have many other guides to social media for parents). As long as you follow the safety precautions, and stay involved in your child’s use of YouTube, they can enjoy the many positives that the app brings.