Family, Kids & Relationships

Are YouTube’s most popular kids’ videos actually appropriate for children?

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For many families, YouTube is a go-to platform for distraction and entertainment. And while kids’ YouTube videos can be a lot of fun for kids (and useful for busy parents), you may not know very much about what your kids are really watching.

There is an almost endless supply of content on YouTube that was made for kid audiences, from songs for kids to sing to educational videos to promote super simple learning, so it’s tempting to think that it’s all pretty much kid-friendly. And if you’ve set up parental controls on the popular apps your kids use, checked the YouTube safe search settings through Google on devices your kids use, and talked to your kids about online safety, you might feel relatively confident that what they’re seeing is ok. But how aware are you about who and what is behind these seemingly made-for-children YouTube kids shows?

Looking into the YouTube kids’ videos and channels with the highest number of subscribers reveals some interesting patterns on YouTube. Here’s what to know, and what to watch out for, when you let kids tune in — plus some alternative solutions to make family screen time healthier for the whole family.

The most popular baby/toddler YouTube channels (kids’ music and cartoons)

  • CoComelon
  • Pinkfong
  • ChuChu TV
  • El Reino Infantil
  • LooLoo Kids
  • Super Simple Songs – Kids Songs

The CoComelon nursery rhymes and songs channel continues to soar (and profit) as the number-one watched YouTube channel in the U.S. as well as the top-subscribed kids’ YouTube channel in the whole world. Its fast-paced, music-fueled, animated entertainment is aimed at the youngest age group: babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Pinkfong, ChuChu TV, El Reino Infantil, and LooLoo Kids (as well as many other channels) offer similarly simple cartoon musical videos for kids, and are also climbing the subscriber charts.

While the content on these channels is usually “innocent” enough for toddlers to watch in moderation, it’s not necessarily the high-quality educational videos and programming that child development experts would recommend. The creators (and corporations) behind many of these kids’ YouTube channels may be more focused on YouTube success and new product lines (such as Super Simple, the app that provides access to Super Simple Songs kids’ YouTube videos for a fee) than they are on child development.

Note that while these channels are targeted at toddlers’ interests (as demonstrated by the mesmerizing effect on little ones), the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time except video-chatting for children under 18 months old, and only very limited time watching high-quality programming together with a parent for older toddlers.

Experts are split in the ongoing debate about whether CoComelon and other made-for-toddlers animated content is too addicting and overstimulating for young viewers. Rebecca G. Cowan, Ph.D., a social and behavioral sciences professor at Walden University, told Parents that different kids will respond differently, so to “pay attention to how your child is responding, and if they appear overstimulated or distressed, intervene if you feel it is necessary.”

The most popular “kidfluencer” vlog YouTube channels

  • Like Nastya
  • Kids Diana Show
  • Vlad and Niki

The channels in this category feature real-life children and their families who may have started off humbly, but have risen to such high levels of YouTube success that they’ve become millionaires and global celebrities. And many other family “vlog” channels are following their example. While the videos can be entertaining and family-focused, they tend to highlight expensive, over-the-top toys, clothes, vacations, and birthday parties that are completely unattainable for the average child. Some people have expressed concern that some of these children may be being exploited for financial gain, especially considering they may have been too young to even understand what was happening when their family’s channel started.

All three of these top-subscribed YouTuber families now have their own toy lines, and the videos obviously promote those products. But they also promote lots of other brands — because toy companies are paying the child influencers up to hundreds of thousands of dollars to play with their products on screen. The families are in the business of promoting the luxury vacation spots and amusement parks that they make videos about too.

While watching small doses of these videos may seem like harmless fun, the problem is that most kids don’t know that these videos are essentially advertisements. This style of influencer marketing has a huge impact on consumer behavior around the world. And children, who are extra vulnerable to marketing tactics, are the main targets here. So when you watch this type of content, it’s important to have conversations with kids about marketing tactics, paid influencers, and media literacy so that they’re getting the full picture.

How to find better educational videos for kids

While YouTube is actually home to plenty of high-quality, educational, age-appropriate videos for kids, that’s not necessarily what rises to the top of the subscriber charts — or your searches. Parents know that it can be hard to find thoughtful, well-designed content for young kids.

So for younger kids who need screen entertainment from time to time, it’s smart to stick with safe, trusted sources like PBS Kids or Sensical (a free app made by Common Sense Media) so that you know all the content has been carefully vetted by child development experts.

For kids who love music, seek out original children’s musical artists who make family music. They often have great, kid-friendly music videos for children and other educational videos. And the songs are probably going to be more creative, interactive, and authentic than most of what you can find on the chart-dominating channels above.

When you’re using YouTube as a research tool to answer your kid’s million-and-one questions about the world, the site The Kids Should See This could be useful as well. It compiles fascinating, good-quality videos on topics like science, nature, art, technology, and how things are made. The videos there often inspire real-world action and curiosity, so your family can find a healthy balance between screen time and other activities. Also see this list of educational kids’ YouTube channels.

If you do decide to let kids watch YouTube videos, be sure to turn off the default autoplay feature so that your child isn’t watching endless suggested videos. You can also set up YouTube Kids to get more parental controls as well as somewhat filtered content and ads — but be sure to continue to select channels with caution, encourage them to watch in moderation, set up realistic screen time limits for your family, and co-view and discuss the content whenever possible.

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.