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Warning: YouTube Kids Isn't as G-Rated as You Think

girl watching videos on tablet
Looking for a super short video for my eight-year-old daughter to watch last week, I checked out YouTube Kids, thinking it would be easy to find something there. Boy, was I wrong. Sure, there were animated or puppet characters, but, in a lot of the videos, what they were doing and saying was not appropriate. I'm not the only parent to have this problem, and just this week the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy updated its April complaint against YouTube Kids with the Federal Trade Commission, saying the site is "rife" with content unsuitable for children.

Launched in February, the YouTube Kids app is supposed to make it easier and safer for kids to find videos on topics they want to explore. Instead, the site contains "a significant amount of content that would be extremely disturbing and/or potentially harmful for young children to view," according to the group's FTC complaint. Examples of the inappropriate content accessible on the site referenced in the complaint include a profanity-laced parody of the film Casino featuring Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie, graphic discussions about family violence, pornography and child suicide, jokes about drug use, and advertising for alcohol products.

YouTube Kids is also under fire for targeting kids with deceptive advertising. Consumer Watchdog and other children's advocacy groups recently also filed a complaint with the FTC, charging that the app merges content and advertising in a way that is unfair given its young, impressionable audience. Some of the questionable content includes "user-generated" segments featuring toys and candy that don't disclose the relationship between the producers of the videos and the product manufacturers and "branded channels" for companies like McDonald's, Barbie and Fisher-Price, which are basically program-length commercials.

In response to these criticisms, the Google-owned app has said it reviews videos flagged as problematic 24/7 and removes inappropriate ones. The company also said it worked with child advocacy groups to develop the app and that ads are necessary to provide the content for free to users. For parents who are unhappy with the content, Google recommends turning off the "search" function, and the app's defenders say it's ultimately up to parents to monitor kids' viewing haits.

That is totally true, but it sort of defeats the app's purpose for me if I have to turn off "search" or watch over my daughter's shoulder all the time. Some of the videos I wouldn't even want my daughter reading the title or description of, let alone watching them, so I don't feel comfortable letting her even look at the app at this point. Luckily, it's summer and she should just go outside and play anyway!

Related: The 25 Best Media Picks for Toddlers

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Ellen Sturm Niz is a New York City-based editor and writer. Follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

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