How YouTube Leads the Way to Better Kids' Content

Keeping it positive

Key Takeaways

  • YouTube is trying to improve the quality of videos aimed at children. 
  • The company said that it would crack down on highly commercial videos aimed at kids and ones that encourage bad behaviors. 
  • Experts say poor online content can affect children’s mental health.
A teenage student studying with a video lesson on a tablet computer.

valentinrussanov / Getty Images

Kids may soon get better things to watch online. 

Google recently announced that it would demonetize YouTube channels that primarily target young people or market themselves as "made for kids" if the content they upload is of poor quality. It's one of several media companies trying to improve content for kids. The move comes as parents and educators express growing alarm about the effects of social media on children. 

"Our kids need better content," parenting psychologist Dan Peters told Lifewire in an email interview.

"They are being raised in a technology era where much of their education comes from social media and video platforms—and a steady stream of it daily. Raising the bar on the quality of content kids and teens consume can have a positive impact on their mental health, values, and behavior, and reduce the production and accessibility of negative content."

Video Rules

YouTube said it would crack down on highly commercial videos aimed at kids and ones that encourage bad behaviors. Videos that violate the ban may see limited or no ads, and could be removed from the YouTube Partner Program. 

"Every channel applying to YPP undergoes review by a trained rater to make sure it meets our policies, and we continually keep these guidelines current," YouTube's James Beser wrote in a blog post

Other platforms also are putting limits in place to identify, remove, and limit harmful content. For example, Facebook has a reporting feature that allows users to notify the company of inappropriate content. 

Another similar initiative is the pause on "Instagram Kids" by Facebook, as lawmakers and others have expressed concerns about the negative impact of social media on youth. 

"Research has shown that social media content increases depression, anxiety, bullying, negative self-comparison, low self-esteem, and loneliness in children and adolescents," Peters said. "Pausing the development of 'Insta Kids' and YouTube's initiative to demonetize low-quality content shows that tech companies are starting to pay attention."

Chris Ferguson, a psychology professor at Stetson University, told Lifewire in an email interview that there have been concerns that some of the content on YouTube marketed toward kids were commercials masquerading as video content or videos advocating that kids engage in bad behavior. 

"Raising the bar on the quality of content kids and teens consume can have a positive impact on their mental health, values, and behavior..."

"The devil, of course, is always in the details, and we'll see how this works out," he added. "A lot of these big tech firms end up with policies that are opaque, rely too much on AI, and have Byzantine appeals processes."

Content Matters

Experts say the kind of online content children are exposed to can have an outsized impact on their mental health. Psychologists speak about media and a kid's online community as a child's "second family," learning specialist Rebecca Mannis told Lifewire in an email interview.  

That makes parents and community—a kid's first and real-time authentic community—that much more critical in terms of setting the pace for values and connections that are authentic and supportive.

Julie Ens, a parenting blogger, said she's concerned about poor quality content for her 4-year-old. 

"There's only a handful of educational yet highly engaging content on YouTube that I let my kid watch," she said. "Most of them are crap, and it's not entertaining enough for her age, the visuals are awful, the educational parts seem a bit too advanced for her, most are below her age-level, so it's boring for her." 

A parent and child working with art supplies and watching a video on a tablet computer.

FreshSplash / Getty Images

Not everyone agrees that there's a crisis in content for kids. Ferguson said that the recent blowup over Facebook and Instagram "has largely proven to be moral panic" rather than anything substantive.

"I think, as parents, we tend to get obsessed over 'content' a bit, and the good news is that, frankly, in a practical/clinical setting, it really doesn't matter that much if kids circumvent limits on content (and they will)," he said.

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