With an estimated 2.3 billion worldwide users, YouTube is currently the world’s most popular social media platform for watching, creating, and sharing videos online. Given its ever-increasing popularity, here’s what parents need to know:

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Written by Cyber Expert:

Yasmin London

Former Police Officer

Last modified Jan 14, 2022

Created in San Francisco in 2005 by three former PayPal employees, Jawed Karim, Steve Chan, and Chad Hurley, YouTube is an online social media and video sharing platform. Like many great ideas, the inspiration for YouTube was borne out of frustration when one of the developers was unable to find the video content he was searching for online. The site already had over eight million viewers per day when it was officially launched on December 15, 2005, after initial beta testing.

YouTube was bought by Google in 2006 for USD1.65 billion in stock and is currently the second-largest search engine in the world, behind its parent company. The platform features videos from short clips to full movies covering every topic and genre imaginable, including live-streamed topical news events. With its popularity already increasing rapidly, YouTube has thrived during the COVID-19 global pandemic. Currently, YouTube creators (also known as YouTubers) upload over 500 hours of content per minute, more than one billion hours of YouTube is watched daily, and the platform features content in over 76 different languages.

How is YouTube downloaded and how does it work?

The YouTube app can be downloaded onto iOS and Android devices, smart TVs, and gaming consoles. YouTube TV works with streaming media players, including Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku players and TVs, and Fire TV.  As well as the main YouTube platform, there are several subsidiary apps with more specified content, including YouTube Music, YouTube Kids, YouTube Studio and YouTube TV.

Users can find and watch channels on almost any topic imaginable, from short clips to feature-length movies, many of which feature reviews or 'How to' instructions. Content can either be uploaded or live-streamed, and, depending on the filters set, users have access to all content, including subscriptions and in-app purchases.

Users must be at least 13 years of age to create their own account or channel. Channels can be created by YouTubers for fun, but can also be monetized in various ways, including attracting a large number of viewers, likes and channel subscriptions, paid Patreon memberships, live-stream super chats and stickers, merchandising, ad revenue, and revenue earned from premium subscriber views.

What is the minimum age to use Youtube?

Anyone of any age can search for and watch videos on YouTube, making it important for parents to ensure adequate safety filters and parental controls are installed to help minimize the risk of their children viewing inappropriate content. YouTube requires users to be 13 years or age or older to set up an account or create a channel. The platform is in the process of introducing three new settings (currently in the beta phase of testing) that will enable parents to use parental controls within the settings to allow older children greater access while still keeping them safe. These will be:

  • Explore: Will include content generally suited to children aged nine years and over or those ready to move on from YouTube Kids.

  • Explore More: Will include content suitable for children aged 13 and over, including age-appropriate live streams.

  • Most of YouTube: Will include most of the content available on the platform except for age-restricted content.

How much does YouTube cost?

The YouTube app is free to download, and anyone can search for videos on YouTube for free. Users can opt to subscribe to YouTube Premium for USD14.99 per month (with the first month free). The premium subscription includes no ads, the ability to download videos to view offline, background play to listen to videos while using another app, and YouTube Music Premium.

Some subsidiary YouTube apps are fully paid for by subscription or have a premium subscription component, and many YouTube channels contain in-app purchases.

YouTube subsidiary apps

As well as YouTube, the platform has several subsidiary apps:

YouTube Music

YouTube Music is an app tailored towards music streaming. Users can search for and view specific songs and music videos or, more broadly, those of a given artist or genre. The app provides music recommendations based on past searches and also enables users to create their own playlists. The paid premium subscription option gives subscribers ad-free music and allows them to download songs to play offline. Although the premium option is included with a YouTube Premium subscription, it can also be purchased separately for USD9.99 per month.

YouTube Kids

YouTube Kids is a version of YouTube that contains content specifically geared towards children. The content has been filtered to exclude videos that are considered to be inappropriate, based on the chosen age group (five years, nine years, or 13 years) and is divided into the subcategories of 'recommended', 'music', 'learning', and 'shows'.

YouTube TV

YouTube TV is a subscription TV streaming app that enables users to view on-demand videos, live TV, and cloud-based digital video recordings (DVR) from more than 85 different television networks. The DVR service has unlimited cloud storage and can save each recording for nine months. Subscribers can have up to six accounts and can stream on up to three devices simultaneously. Subscriptions start at USD65.00 per month.

YouTube Studio

YouTube Studio is an app for YouTube creators (YouTubers) that enables them to manage everything related to their channel from one place. They can use it to create, upload and manage content, grow and engage with their subscribers, employ analytical tools to gain content insights and drive traffic to their channel and monetize their content.

Is YouTube safe?

Although YouTube can be an incredible resource, the platform also comes with a number of risks that parents should be aware of:

Screen time

YouTube aims to provide users with a simple platform to share and watch videos on any topic of interest online and is undoubtedly a fantastic educational resource; however, it can also be a huge time waster. It's not uncommon for users to become engrossed in watching; they don't realize how much time they've spent staring at a device. Additionally, as Google owns the platform, anyone conducting a Google search will be presented with YouTube videos among the top search results, making the platform easily accessible even for those not looking to use it. Excess screen time is further encouraged by the auto-play feature, which is set as a default and cues the next video as soon as the one being watched has finished.

Inappropriate content

As YouTube content is user-generated, without adequate parental controls and filters, there is a strong probability that children will stumble across inappropriate videos, including those containing violence, profanity, drugs and alcohol, or sexualized content. This is particularly risky with the auto-suggest feature. YouTube restricts videos with certain types of content deemed exceptionally harmful or risky; however, it relies on users to report any violation to the community guidelines, rules, and policies. There have also been occasions when creators with malicious intent have embedded inappropriate content into videos aimed at children. Parents should encourage their kids to tell them straight away if they encounter anything that makes them feel upset or uncomfortable and report it to the platform immediately. In the first quarter of 2021, YouTube removed 9.57 million videos for content restriction breaches. 

In-app purchases

There are several ways for users to make in-app purchases on YouTube, including but not limited to signing up to paid subscriptions, subscribing to become a channel Patreon member (a platform that allows creators to be paid for their work), buying channel merchandise, and paying for live-stream super chats and stickers. We strongly recommend parents disable in-app purchases on their child's device to avoid the risk of their children accidentally running up a high bill.

Online predators

YouTube channels have message boards, comment sections, and private messaging and chat features, making it extremely easy for online predators to target and groom children. Additionally, predatory videos and messages portraying sexualized content found on the platform are often cleverly created or worded in such a way to bypass filters and parental controls. Consequently, it is essential for parents to disable messaging and chat functions and talk to their children about online predators and how they operate.

Creating a YouTube channel

In the current age of the online influencer, many kids are lured into starting a YouTube channel with the thought of making fast, easy money. In reality, YouTube monetization is not a lucrative enterprise for most creators on its own. It often requires constant input, content creation, and cross-promotion on multiple platforms to build up the traffic necessary to make a channel profitable. Additionally, many of the YouTube monetization features are not available to creators under the age of 18. It is also not uncommon for YouTubers to be subjected to online abuse and other forms of cyberbullying, which can have a significant emotional risk.

How can I make YouTube safer for my teenager?

Here are our top tips for helping to make YouTube safer for your teen:

  • Install parental controls to help monitor online activity and screen time. Ensure screen time restrictions are included in your family tech agreement and ask your children to set a timer when using the platform.

  • Consider setting up a Parent Supervised user account, or set up a family account and watch YouTube together to find and subscribe to channels with great content..

  • Turn on YouTube restricted mode and disable the messaging and chat function.

  • Disable in-app purchases on your child's device.

  • Turn off auto-play, which is set to 'on' as a default.

  • Install YouTube Kids as a safer choice for younger children or select the ‘Explore’, ‘Explore More’ or ‘Most of YouTube’ options in the platform’s settings.

  • Encourage quality over quantity and ask your kids to use YouTube to learn new skills or for educational purposes.

  • If there is a particular channel you don’t want your child to watch, select the ‘Don’t recommend channel’ option within the channel’s settings so it won’t display on your child’s recommended list.

  • Don't rely on parental controls and filters. Ensure you continue to monitor your child's YouTube use and report any inappropriate content.

Further reading

A Parents' Guide to Screen Time

Our experts' guide to healthy screen time management.

How to set up a cyber safe home

Our simple ABC model is a practical and effective way to create a safe online environment for your family.

Setting a digital agreement

Ever feel like you and your kids just aren’t on the same page when it comes to things like how much screen-time ...

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