One couple started letting their son watch YouTube so they could relax. Plot twist: It became a source of stress.

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YouTube can be a way for parents to catch a break. Turn on an episode of Blippi, and you can use the bathroom with the door closed. Ah, pure bliss.

But anyone who has been on YouTube knows that the sidebars are often full of other content. And when videos end, the platform suggests new ones to view, and they may not be parent-approved.

One couple recently learned that the hard way and decided to nix YouTube altogether. But then, one parent started to feel guilty and asked Reddit for a sanity check. Here's the Reader's Digest version.

"Over the last month, we've been letting our son 'scroll' through YouTube on the TV while we were in the room or nearby as his TV time," wrote u/lacrimosian in the Parenting subreddit. "He found some cute stuff he really enjoyed, but as the days went on, he kept accidentally stumbling on weird stuff…maybe not 'bad' stuff but just generally strange."

The original poster (OP) kept looking up from their phone to find their son watching a video that wasn't as harmless as it looked in the thumbnail. It went from being a break for the couple to a source of stress.

An image of a child watching tv.
Credit: Getty Images.

"In just the few weeks he's been watching YouTube, he has given up all of his other favorite educational TV shows and movies filled with lessons on life," the OP wrote. "He just wants to watch CGI animations of Frozen characters dancing to popular music. It feels so pointless and mindless."

"If adults can enjoy mindless TV, why can't kids?" the poster wondered. "Should we just be less begrudged to monitor his TV closely? I'm conflicted."

The couple decided to ban YouTube. But now, the Redditor is wondering if that was the right call.

The post has racked up nearly 800 comments in less than a day. Spoiler alert: Fellow parents aren't YouTube fans, either.

"I am a very relaxed mama with screen time and letting them choose, but YouTube is where I draw the line too. I had to ban it after my son went from innocent Paw Patrol to these weird, hand-drawn, not-good Paw Patrol animations with one creepy guy doing voiceovers," said the top commenter.

Though YouTube Kids gives parents some control over what their child sees, one Redditor feels even that's not enough.

"My daughter uses YouTube Kids in her iPad, and it's almost daily that I need to block weird videos of Peppa Pig or similar. [The] last one was one with someone throwing plastic animals in a bucket full of water," warned one Redditor.

One poster had suggestions for more predictable apps to try.

"Netflix, Disney, and PBS all have kids' apps that are awesome…Noggin is our favorite. It has games and read-along stories too," wrote another.

Screen time is tricky to navigate, and the pandemic hasn't helped. Last year, 7 in 10 parents said their kids' screen time had spiked. But the fact of the matter is that parents need a break sometimes, and having to worry about what video a YouTube algorithm is going to suggest next isn't exactly relaxing.

If you're looking for ways to keep your kid entertained while you power down, experts recommend you:

  • Set up a FaceTime call for your kid with a family member. Have that family member read your child their favorite story.
  • Do some homework. Resources like Common Sense Media can help caregivers evaluate whether the content is age-appropriate.
  • Relax and unplug together. Have a game night, cook a meal, or get stress-busting endorphins going by exercising as a family. Having off-screen experiences can help you unwind without thinking about what your child is clicking on next.
  • Lose the guilt. Screen time can be a challenge to navigate. There are tons of warnings out there about what happens if you allow too much screen time too soon. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time for kids 5 and under to one hour per day. But the AAP also acknowledged that screen time would increase during the pandemic and urged stressed-out parents not to feel guilty about it.

Monitor what your child watches and how long they're staring at a screen the best you can. But try not to turn it into yet another source of anxiety during a still-stressful time. If you're not comfortable with one platform or type of content, there are resources like Common Sense Media and other apps you can try.