Why I deleted our YouTube Kids App – our story.

On November 9, 2017 by Bethany

I am not one to take to Facebook to talk about something like this, but in the past two weeks, I’ve told our story to so many people, and it’s all over the news as well. After talking with two of my sisters in law, I realized that Edison’s story is maybe unique in that, we saw the progression of videos getting more skewed over time, the more and more he watched, and we caught the videos on the screen.. I wanted to take some time to write it here. I feel like maybe there are people out there just like me who think, “Ahh, it’s not that bad…” But I hope after reading my story, you’ll reconsider.

I think it’s important to place it here in this space. In this space I feel safe and like maybe, just maybe, my voice can make a difference. 

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably heard about the scandal with YouTube Kids. If so, you’re likely either in two camps – rolling your eyes, or mildly concerned. When I first heard of them, I would have placed myself in the second camp. I love Youtube, like LOVE it. I follow probably 30 or more channels and am subscribed to more. I thought it would translate to my kids well. 

To back up really quickly, Edison has had access to YouTube Kids since he was around 18 months or so. The first six or seven months or so was with strict parental guidance and we were not on the app, just on the TV at our home. He mostly watched train videos. Some of those endless model train videos that last for hours? Yeah, he would have just sat there yelling “Momma, train!” for as long as we allowed. (Thanks to all the guys out there making those awesome videos!)

When he was around two years old and actually started wanting to watch other videos, like “learning colors” and “family fingers,” he was learning SO much. I mean, he learned his colors and vocabulary and counting and I was so impressed. I loved that the videos were innocent and dorky, but an awesome way for him to use technology: to learn. So we downloaded the app on all our devices, feeling safe and secure that the set up questions about his age and the lock screen that needs a parent to input a series of numbers would be sufficient to keep him off of anything that wasn’t appropriate for his age.

Eric and I, feeling confident that nothing he was watching could be different than the countless videos I had watched with him in the past, eventually began letting him watch YouTube Kids unsupervised while we did things like cook dinner. One night I sat down with him and was totally caught off guard by the sexual undertones of a video he was watching. It was Elsa, Anna, Spiderman and some other superheroes. If you passed by this video and caught a glance, if you just heard the music or if you saw the title, you wouldn’t have thought anything about it. But since I stopped and watched and saw it with my own eyes, I immediately stopped screen time for the week.

Time went by, and I let him have the app back at different times. Why? “Because it was JUST SO EASY.”

Then I saw an article showing screenshots of other inappropriate content. And my eyes grew wide and my stomach knotted in disgust. I couldn’t believe it to be true. I hadn’t seen anything like that. Roaches crawling on baby-dolls and kids making themselves throw up, or Peppa Pig’s head being cut off, or gun violence. And so Eric and I talked and we decided to remain vigilant and be on the lookout.

(Note: You CANNOT trust sound alone to warn you of these things, they have normal music and sounds going on in the background.)

Time went by, and I caught another odd (but not violent) video with a crying baby being forgotten at a store, then being trapped in a burning building and teetering on the ledge. This is absolutely something I want Edison to have no concept of… and yet, because he loved the other videos so much, I didn’t stop it completely there. I flagged the video, pulled up something else, and felt like I had accomplished something. I trusted it would be taken down and my baby was safer for it.

We decided to make a change, and moved to downloading videos of his favorite shows on Netflix and showing those to him in the car. But one day, all of our videos we downloaded had “expired” and we were left without any shows to watch on our two hour car ride. So, we fell back on the crutch – YouTube Kids.

It wasn’t until Edison went through this phase in the past few months where he is VERY curious about guns and talks about “killing someone dead” that I became desperate.

WHERE is he getting this information? We do not own guns, and he isn’t around guns in action yet (even though many of our family members own them). We do not talk about guns (other than his intial lesson in guns are not to touch, ever) or killing, not even of animals. He’s just too young for that in our opinion. (If you think differently, that’s totally fine and up to you… that’s not the point of this post.) 

We have a zero tolerance policy in our home for violence of any kind. You are aggressive toward mom or dad or brother? Time-in with that person. You push brother down? Time-out away from that person. You’re playing with your toys like they’re hurting each other? The toys are taken away. No tolerance.

And yet, the fascination remained.

And I blamed it on so many things… it’s just a phase, he’s growing up, maybe it’s a kid that he’s playing with at church or maybe it’s a show he’s watching at daycare or at grandma’s house. We cut out a few shows that we thought were the culprit, but it persisted. We had very grown-up conversations with him about how serious the issue was and he was listening and learning.

But on that fateful day, as we were driving in the car, Eric stopped our conversation and said “What’s that noise? What is Edison watching? It sounds like a machine gun…”

I immediately jerked the phone from his hands and found myself watch four or five grown up men, dressed up in PJ Masks outfits, acting like they were going to “hunt down” another guy who was dressed up as an evil clown. And what were they carrying? A barrage of different kinds of guns, each one shooting at this evil clown and, no doubt, trying to kill him. I watched for all of 30 seconds and I had to turn it off.

That was it. In that moment, I deleted the app from every device in our car.

So, why am I sharing this with you? It’s not my style to go on a public space like this to talk about such a conflict-fueled argument… but this means far too much to me. That the minds of the little ones I hold most dear could be exposed to these adult themes so early, just like my little guy was.

I failed him in this way by not looking out for him and, instead, taking what was the “easy route” in a lot of situations. I admit it. It weighs on me. It weighs on Eric. I know parenthood is long road of mistakes and learning from them, so I won’t let it define our future.

I am not against proper screen time as long as it is limited and monitored, (I especially love learning apps) with far more outside play and even more time of free and creative thinking and imagination. But I am against unmonitored use of this app.

Please hear my story. I’m not coming from a high horse. I’m coming from a place of “I WAS YOU.” I made the mistake of trusting this app and it could have done far worse damage than it has. I want to throw up when I think of all of the different things my boy could have watched without me knowing. I have been so proud of my three year old little man, navigating the moral in the midst of all of this and learning a big lesson about violence, telling mom and dad if something is off and continuing to always ask us permission to watch “one more episode.”

Practical other ways to watch on the go?

  1. Download videos on the YouTube app (not YouTube Kids). When online or offline, you can watch these videos. Then you are watching videos you’ve pre-selected and approved. (Note: If your kids are old enough to understand how, they can turn on WiFi and search still within YouTube).
  2. Download episodes of your favorite shows on the Netflix app. There is no man-made or robot-made content, only true episodes. You can access these online or offline.
  3. PBS kids has an app and it only contains TV episodes, not homemade content. However, I do not believe there is a downloading option, so you need WiFi to watch.

Remember parents, our role is to protect and guide. Kristen Howerton said recently:

“I get really frustrated when I hear parents say things like, “Well, you can’t keep them off XYZ app” or “They are gonna find XYZ online anyway.” Parents. You are in charge. It’s possible to set your values and intentions and then follow through with what you allow. You don’t want them on YouTube? Disable it on their phone. Don’t want them surfing the web? Remove the browser. Worried about them looking at porn using Instagram hashtags? (Yes that’s a thing.) Take it off their phone. They are on their phone too much? Take it away for a while. Phones and apps are a privilege, not a right. I think every parent has the right to choose what they allow their kids to engage with, but I get stabby when they act like they don’t have any agency in the matter. We are the grown-ups. It’s a new frontier in this digital age and kids need supervision and boundaries as they figure out impulse control and balance. In the same way that you wouldn’t offer a cabinet full of candy at your home and then throw your hands up in the air as if you are powerless to their eating habits. Be in charge of what they can access.”

I’m going to do better.

I hope you will hear me and take a second look at the screen.


One Response to “Why I deleted our YouTube Kids App – our story. ”

  • You are very right to be concerned. The bottom line is anything if this world is not of God and can potentially be something we should never see or here. Except veggie tales. We are all guilty of going to convienence over just biting the bullet and letting our kids be mad or throw a fit. Is it going to kill them to use their imagination or look out the window for 2 hours in the car? Nope it won’t. Technology, in my opinion, has few attributes and many negatives. We have to shield our kids from it as long as possible. I am just as guilty as everyone else but we have to be better. Love yall