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Got a love-hate relationship with YouTube?

By on 02-20-2020

You’re not alone: Get tips from our product expert and dad on how to achieve a balanced YouTube diet for your family 

Music, especially heavy metal, is my biggest passion by far. I need music to be a happy person. I don’t even have to be listening to music, just looking for music puts me in a good mood. I have beautiful memories of searching through LPs and CDs at music stores, trying to track down that album some friend recommended. I still feel nostalgic when I think about walking the streets of the Raval in Barcelona, visiting store after store, finally finding that special record and going through the ritual of opening the packaging, reading the cover and rushing home to spin the black circle.

It’s probably no huge surprise then to learn that it took me a while to accept the digital side of music. But, little by little, I ended up embracing it. And YouTube was a big part of that transition. It tapped into my curious side. I loved that not only could I listen to my favorite bands, but I could also discover new artists through its recommendations. 

Before long I became a huge YouTube promoter. But it didn’t last. I realized the YouTube recommendation system was driving me into unexpected territories. I found myself spending countless hours on YouTube watching random videos, many of them complete rubbish and not at all related to music. I quickly learned this wasn’t  just happening to me: more than 70% of the time people spend watching videos on YouTube is driven by its algorithmic recommendations

More than 70% of the time people spend watching videos on YouTube is driven by its algorithmic recommendations.

According to Guillaume Chaslot, an ex-Google software engineer, “The YouTube algorithm does not appear to be optimising for what is truthful, or balanced, or healthy for democracy.” Maximizing time spent online seems to be the main driver. Considering the ridiculous amount of time we spend in YouTube land, we cannot ignore the associated risks. But being sucked into spending hours and hours online is just one of my concerns regarding YouTube. 

My first concern is the content itself. I remember when my daughter was around five years old and a big fan of Dora The Explorer. I admit I sometimes used YouTube as a “digital pacifier” if I needed her to quieten down for a while or be entertained. I let her surf Dora videos and she ended up watching some dark video pranks about Dora. I remember she started to shout and I had to quickly explain to her that not everyone on the internet has good intentions. For several days thereafter she would constantly ask me, “Is this a good video?” Now I am always attentive to which searches she made and which videos she watched. I also now work for a parental control software company to help design ways to help parents like me protect their kids.

I admit I sometimes used YouTube as a ‘digital pacifier’ if I needed [my daughter] to quieten down for a while or be entertained.

In short, quality is key. Common sense will tell you that two hours spent watching videos on “how to play guitar” is better than two hours spent watching something mindless. And not even one minute of videos promoting violence, anorexia or making fun of sick kids is healthy for anyone. Having a good understanding of YouTube consumption through relevant insights is the perfect place to start healthy conversations, especially with kids: Why are you watching videos about anorexia? Do you realize the people in those videos are suffering? And of course, it isn’t all negative! There are plenty of fun conversations to have, too: Are you enjoying the guitar? Can I recommend a song? Do you know what an LP is? 

The combination of the YouTube addiction algorithm and my daughter’s encounter with inappropriate content made me rethink the way I see the video service. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think YouTube is all bad. It also provides terrific opportunities to have fun and learn. But, sadly, it has become a dustbin of hazardous material. YouTube is probably a good mirror of humanity, reflecting our best and worst sides. 

That, and huge demand from fellow parents, is what inspired us to create Qustodio’s YouTube Monitoring feature. It gives parents a view into which YouTube videos they have been watching throughout the day so they know which conversations to have, and so they can be on top of any content that looks suspicious. And, just as importantly, it helps us get a better grip on how much time our kids spend on YouTube. 

As the most popular video network, we need to understand how YouTube works and how that relates to our habits and those of our kids online. We need some balance; we need a healthy YouTube diet. 

At Qustodio, a healthy YouTube diet means being aware of the quality of the content being consumed and following the new WHO guidelines for screen time

  • Children between 2 and 5 should be limited to only 60 minutes of screen time per day (and the less the better)
  • Children under 2 should not spend any time on screens at all

For older children, tweens and teens, we recommend screen time limits be based on the child’s maturity and digital resilience level. And for all ages, we recommend:

  • Screen time breaks every 45 minutes
  • No screens one hour before bedtime

Qustodio’s Smart Parenting Tips newsletter is designed to help you stay informed as a parent and raise your children in the digital age with a bit more confidence. No scaremongering. Nothing trendy. Just the best advice from real experts.

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