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Make YouTube More Kid-Friendly: 5 Things Parents Can Control

Parents, there's a way to curb screen time, block videos and more. We'll explain.

You can make YouTube a safer place to surf for your kids.
James Martin/CNET

There's a ton of content on YouTube, and kids can easily spend hours wading through the ocean of videos online. From Cocomelon to gamer streams like PewDiePie and TikTok compilations, YouTube can be a video-filled playground for a kid, especially when they have access to a tablet

So, what are parents to do? Rather than let your young kid run amok with uninhibited freedom on YouTube, you can practice restraint by activating restrictions. While there are ways to use safety settings on your Android or Apple phones or TV streaming devices, YouTube has an assortment of features that go beyond the basic set of parental controls. You can curb screen time, monitor content, block videos and more. 

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The separate YouTube Kids app is designed to cater to younger children, but the main YouTube app offers myriad other ways to oversee what your child is watching as well, even if they're older. Here are the main tools available to parents, arranged roughly in order of easiest to most involved -- from a single toggle to setting up and using separate apps.

'Dismiss' what you don't want your kid to see

YouTube's algorithm notoriously tracks your life and what you like to watch. Then it uses that information to recommend more related -- or surprisingly random -- videos to grab your attention. Imagine how many videos kids are bombarded with after taking in the latest Marvel trailer, for example. There's a way to shut that down.

YouTube encourages parents to dismiss content they don't want their kids to see by clicking on the three dots on a video or channel and choosing "Not Interested." Such content will not pop up in their recommendation feed again. This function is available only to users of mobile phones, which may keep you on your toes when your child is checking out something that's way too mature for them. 

Unlike some of the other safety options, this one isn't on autopilot and requires you to be an active viewer. It's ideal if you're watching with your kids at the doctor's office, the beach or in an Uber, where you'll learn to be quick with the dismissive clicks when autoplay is rolling.

Restricted Mode

An option that's separate from the "Not Interested" function, YouTube's Restricted Mode is a single setting that lets you hide inappropriate content. It's available on all devices, including smart TVs and tablets. From a phone or tablet, click your account profile, navigate to General and then hit the gear icon for Settings. Toggle Restricted Mode to "On." Unless you're viewing YouTube on a smart TV, you must sign in to your Google account to flip on this setting.

You can use this feature to manage videos for a child of any age, including teens. Restricted Mode is also accessible if you run a supervised account for your child.

Supervise your child's account

Introduced on YouTube in 2021, supervised accounts have been available for parents in beta mode. They operate exactly how they sound. Initially, these accounts were specifically for kids under 13, but now the feature includes older teens. 

Content ratings are set by parents. Per YouTube, parents can choose from three content settings -- Explore, Explore More and Most of YouTube -- that correspond with ratings for tweens and teens. These settings apply to the main YouTube app and YouTube Music.

  • Explore is generally for viewers ages 9 and older. Some of the videos may contain low levels of violence, controlled substances or provocative language. YouTube also notes that educational videos about the human body or mental health are also in this grouping. 
  • Videos under Explore More are geared toward the 13-and-over crowd. In addition to vlogs, music videos, gaming clips and other content, there may be mild profanity, violence, controlled substances and "non-explicit sexual references."
  • The app's Most of YouTube setting denotes videos that are for older teens, with the exception of those marked for users who are 18+ and a selection of filtered content. 

Worried about ads? Supervised accounts prevent personalized ads from being shown, and certain other ads aren't allowed. Video creators are required to notify YouTube if their content spotlights product placements, so you may occasionally see these occurrences. 

According to YouTube, updated features for supervised accounts now include the ability to block specific channels, and supervised experiences have expanded to eligible smart TVs and YouTube Music on Android, iOS, the web and Google Assistant on smart displays. 

Head to YouTube Kids

Prefer to keep it simple for kiddos under age 13? Just set them up with a YouTube Kids account. The app is entirely separate from the main YouTube app and houses age-appropriate content that's either curated by YouTube or you, the parent. Videos are chosen and filtered by a group of parents, child experts and YouTube engineers before hitting the platform, and you still have the ability to flag or block channels and individual videos.  

Additionally, parents and caregivers with Google accounts can sign in and send content directly to their kids using the YouTube Kids app. But it's the parental controls that may give you real peace of mind.

After creating kids' profiles, you're able to choose content based on age or set it up where you must approve each video. With the latter, you can select collections or specific channels for your child's viewing experience, and kids are prevented from searching for anything on the app. Parents can also set timers or track their child's viewing history. If you want to go the extra mile, you can opt to pay for a premium account to lock out any ads. 

Manage YouTube with Google's Family Link app

Google isn't only YouTube's parent company, but it also owns Family Link, an app that allows users to filter content and manage screen time for kids. It's not a requirement in order to use parental controls, YouTube's supervised accounts or other safety features, but it may make your life easier.

Family Link lets you connect new or existing Google accounts for your child. For kids under age 13, you can register a new account, and Family Link allows you to use parental controls and supervision on existing accounts for children of any age. However, with the latter, your kid must consent to parental supervision in order for you to activate it. From there, you can install and activate Family Link on their individual devices and manage YouTube from your own account. Should your kids deactivate supervision on their devices, you'll receive a notification, and Android devices will lock.

Family Link is available on the YouTube website, Chromebook, iOS 11 devices and higher and certain Android devices running versions 5.0 or higher. Download the app and you'll be walked through the steps to add your child's new or existing Google account. Once the accounts are linked and sign-up is complete, your kids can log in to their devices using Family Link. From there, you can set up restrictions or lock devices for each child by simply tapping his or her name in Family Link.

With your kid's YouTube app access tethered to yours, you can then set boundaries for screen time, content or bedtime. You'll be able to monitor what videos they watch and how often, whether it's on the regular YouTube app, YouTube Kids or YouTube Music. 

For more, check out Netflix's parental control features and how you can set up and use your Wi-Fi router's parental controls. Plus, here are the best apps to download to keep your kids safe online

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