Do you know what your kids are watching? Sure, you monitor their shows on TV, but what about on the computer? Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes on YouTube lately will tell you that for every kid-friendly video you might find, there’s bound to be at least one not-so-kid-friendly video that will pop up to follow it. How do you know what is safe, and how do you find it?
The best place to start, especially if you are not very familiar with kids’ sites on the web, is a central resource for parents like Common Sense Media that offers reviews of kids’ materials and recommendations for the best-rated sites. There you can get some ideas for places to go, and you can check out the places you’ve heard about and compare the experts’ ratings with what other parents (and kids) say as well.
If you’re looking for online videos for the youngest set (2 to 5 years), one of the easiest things to do is stick with the web sites from the channels and TV shows your kids already enjoy. You’re almost certain to find something for your child to like at PBS Kids (Sesame Street, Wonder Pets, Clifford, Curious George, and more), Nick Jr. (Dora, Diego, Max & Ruby), Playhouse Disney (Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Handy Manny, Imagination Movers), or Sprout Online (created by PBS). Each of these sites has kid-safe videos, games, and activities.
Your kids might also enjoy KidMango, featuring cartoons and videos for kids. The offerings tend to skew younger, featuring shows like Care Bears, although a few offerings like Carmen Sandiego may appeal to the older set. The site is divided into three “channels’ for preschoolers, ages 4-7, and ages 8 and up; although the site promises to keep all material kid-friendly if your kid wants to move up an age group. Another fun video site is TotLol, which offers kid-friendly videos from YouTube, selected by parents for children.
Older kids (6 and up) will probably enjoy seeing videos and playing games on Nick (SpongeBob, iCarly) or Disney Channel (Hannah Montana, Jonas Brothers – need we say more?). But at a certain point they will want to branch out from pre-packaged entertainment and spend time at a more interactive portal. Yahoo! Kids has a wide range of videos, games, music, sports, and references for homework help. Many kids also enjoy KidsTube, a monitored video sharing site for uploading and viewing videos made by kids.
Eventually, they will find their way back to YouTube, the ubiquitous giant of all video sharing sites. There’s no denying that YouTube has millions of great videos; even teachers turn to YouTube for a variety of lessons. The problem is that when your child has free reign on YouTube he or she is likely to stumble upon something that you wouldn’t want them to see. YouTube does offer filtering features that allow you to restrict objectionable content. However, it’s important to remember that no filter is 100 percent foolproof. Your best bet with YouTube is to watch with your kids, give them structured guidelines about what material they can search for, and watch the viewing history closely.
In fact, that’s probably good advice for all media use by your kids. Set the ground rules for usage early on so that you can avoid problems later (or at least identify them before it’s too late). And after they’ve enjoyed their time watching a few videos, send them outside for some good old-fashioned fun – running around in the fresh air.