The good thing about YouTube is the almost inconceivably vast volume and range of video, all easily accessible in one place. The bad thing about YouTube is… well, all the same things, especially if you're an adult trying to moderate the media intake of a small child.
Which is why YouTube is launching its YouTube Kids app in the UK today, offering filtered content for three-to-eight-year-olds.
In an ideal world, of course, no child would be left to watch videos unsupervised because they would all have a constantly engaged parent on hand to direct their tiny eyes through the thickets of inappropriate content.
In practice, dinner needs cooking, other children need seeing to, and sometimes parents just need a few minutes off. So many minutes off, in fact, that animated nursery rhyme channel Little Baby Bums has become one of the biggest in the world, with more watch time than Gangnam Style.
YouTube Kids (which has been available in the US since February) isn't a substitute for parental involvement. YouTube stresses that the content is controlled by algorithm rather than being curated, and there could be lapses that parents will need to flag (using the in-app flagging system).
But it will allow for parental involvement to be substantially more relaxed.
The app, which is available for Android and iOS devices (there is no desktop version), features kid-friendly YouTubers such as Stampy Longhead and SevenSuperGirls are in.
Cartoon favourites such as Morph, Chuggington and Octonauts are also in, and so are documentaries from National Geographic and how-tos from Mister Maker. Content is divided into four sections: shows, music, learning, and explore, which is a something of a catch-all category.
No naughty stuff
But children won't be able to blunder into more adult material: it simply won't be presented to them. Not only is most content filtered out, but it isn't even possible to search for it. Within the walls of YouTube kids, trying to search for "sex" will draw a big blank, while a rowdy YouTuber like KSI simply doesn't exist in the app.
Anything R-rated is gently rendered invisible by it. (Search options can be customised in the settings, which parents can access using a custom password.)
Besides filtering, YouTube Kids has several features that parents will be grateful for. It's a logged-out experience, which means no ties to an identifying account. Uploading, sharing and liking have all been disabled, so your child's identity is kept secure. Parents can also turn off the (actually quite pleasant) background music and sound effects.
Perhaps best of all, you can set a timer to control how long your child spends watching. No more bargaining for one more episode or dealing with tantrums about the off switch: when the counter gets to zero, children are presented with a gently yawning face to let them know screen time is over.
'No purchase flows out of the app'
YouTube kids is compatible with Chromecast, Apple TV, games consoles and smart TVs, so you can watch together on the big screen as well as on phone or tablet. Like the rest of YouTube, it's free to use and ad-supported.
YouTube promises that these will be child-friendly, and at launch at least there will be nothing advertising food or drink. They're also saying there will be "no purchase flows out of the app" – so your money can stay as safe as your children while they use the app.
YouTube Kids is one of a number of experiments in specialised platforms from YouTube, which launched YouTube Gaming in August and will bring YouTube music to the UK next year. However, there are no plans to produce children's apps aimed at different age ranges – something of a missed opportunity given than parental anxieties definitely don't end at eight.
For parents of young children, however, YouTube kids should be a great way to take the worry out of letting them enjoy YouTube.
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