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Tech by VICE

YouTube for Kids: the App Gives Children a Non-Internet Internet

And it may prove poisonous.

by Ashwin Rodrigues
Mar 17 2015, 9:00am

Screengrab of YouTube Kids

​YouTube recently developed a mobile app specifically for kids. Imagine a babyproofed version of YouTube, where the sharp edges have been covered in bubble wrap and all the pills are out of your child's reach. This may seem like a no-brainer, slam dunk, A+ win for technology and kids alike.

YouTube Kids, in theory, is a sound concept. There is a discrete number of videos accessible and searchable, carefully curated by adults. Playlists include Sesame Street and Thomas the Tank Engine, and there is no ability for kids to upload their own videos.

Children are not ready for the full-fledged power of the internet, and exposure to unlimited YouTube videos could lead to actual, documented cases of Prema​ture Web Exposure Syndrome. But I don't think this is the way to do it.

In my house, when we first got a 56k modem and AOL, my dad sat next to me as we learned how to set up a screen name and navigated the new world (country?) of America Online. I was given a restricted children's account, which I quickly upgraded to an adult account after some negotiations. But here's my point: I was cruising an unfiltered internet, with adult supervision.

People my age, who grew up with the internet, are now making babies of their own. They need to figure out a way to introduce the internet to their child. A kid-safe app lets a parent toss their kid an iPad and leave them alone to explore.

A separate, sheltered app deprives kids of the opportunity to connect and participate in the zeitgeist

"You can turn off search for an even more contained experience," the app's description in the Android store says, letting parents know that they can be completely uninvolved with their child's browsing experience. "Or set the built-in timer to let your kids know when it's time to stop watching (so you don't have to)."

I agree that no innocent, open-minded soul should be exposed to YouTube comments before they're ready. However, a separate, sheltered app deprives kids of the opportunity to connect and participate in the zeitgeist.

Is there such a thing as too safe? What are the costs of this safety? Is YouTube Kids the equivalent of homeschooling? Is that an ignorant and reductive comparison? The answer to all these is a resounding "Yes, probably."

Consider how important germ exposure is for newborns. It is a common belief with some scientific support that newborns that are exposed to common "dirty things" like pet dander, dirt, and germs are less likely t​o develop allergies later on in life. Similarly, being exposed to the entire internet as a noob may make you less likely to get pwned later on in life.

Little kids should be able to yield search results on YouTube Kids for the following phrases, but currently they can't:

North Korea

Ronaldo Bicycle Kick

Karate chop record

Slow Loris

Chingy

Screengrab: YouTube Kids

This gated-off playpen YouTube is exposing kids to all terrible parts of the internet, with none of the good. Kids will still be exposed to blue light, which can affect sleep patterns and circadian rhythms. The app still fosters antisocial tendencies, if not more so than YouTube, as an adult can leave a child alone with their YouTube Kids app, unsupervised.

My love for pranks and comedy was fed by YouTube, as I was able to watch as many Dave Chappelle clips and Trigger Happy TV videos that I could want (as long as they fit in the daily 30 minute window I was allowed to go on the computer). However, a restrictive app prevents a child from reaping the benefits of an open internet. They won't be able to go down a rabbit hole of obscure rap sample playlists, discover the wonder that is dubbed cartoons, or review footage of an open-heart surgery. (The last example is a reminder that the entire YouTube ecosystem might not be fit for a child.)

As the generations that grew up on the internet begin procreating, there should be a plan. We need to start having this conversation. There needs to be a determination on where the responsibility lies. Is it in the technology itself, like a YouTube Kids App? Or is it still in the human? Is it "Mommy and Me" YouTube classes?

If you are strict about what your kids consume, once they're set free, they may consume a fatal dose of content

To put this into context: historically, Europeans are much more casual than Americans about kids "having a little wine" at the table. Maybe we should take a more European approach to the internet. If you are strict about what your kids consume, once they're set free, they may consume a fatal amount of content. What does the equivalent of alcohol poisoning look like in YouTube usage? Is there such a thing? Whatever it is, talk to your children about the internet. Before it's too late.