The YouTube Kids app on smart TVs will stop working in July, and that's a worry

A child watching a TV with YouTube Kids written on it
(Image credit: Getty Images (Basak Gurbuz Derman) / YouTube)

One of the most parent-friendly things YouTube ever did was to create YouTube Kids, a stand-alone app for parents on the best smart TVs and mobile devices. But now it's being shut down on TVs, according to a Google support page (via FlatpanelsHD).

From July, you'll need to give your kids access to the main YouTube app instead and set up child profiles. Mobile platforms aren't affected yet, but it seems likely that the writing is on the wall, even if it's in crayon.

The move makes me glad my kids are older now, because it's an extra layer of worry. YouTube Kids wasn't perfect and didn't filter all inappropriate content – there was a period where there were some pretty horrific Peppa Pig and Spider-Man videos uploaded by some of the world's worst people – but it had one crucial feature: it didn't let the kids onto YouTube proper. For all its faults, and there were a few, it created a walled garden away from the rest of YouTube that meant you could be reasonably confident your kids weren't seeing anything they shouldn't: not just offensive or horrific content, but also terrible people saying terrible things in a polite way.

I worry that YouTube isn't going to do that so effectively now.

Why the end of YouTube kids is a worry

As YouTube says of its kids app, "YouTube Kids has a much smaller set of content available than YouTube’s main app and website." And that's really important. The content was pre-filtered to make it as child-safe as possible.  And the separate app means that on tablets and other mobile devices you can allow the kids app but not the main YouTube one, which adds another layer of parental control.

What that meant was that YouTube Kids was effectively the kiddie pool at your local leisure center, a place where of course it was still your responsibility to ensure they were safe, but where the water was shallower, and not so steep. YouTube, on the other hand, is the adult pool and someone keeps putting sharks into it. 

To torture that metaphor just a little more, that means child profiles are a bit like giving your kids flotation aids before chucking them into shark-infested waters.

I don't imagine Google is going to change its mind about this, and I think it's highly likely that it's going to sunset the kids app on mobile platforms sooner rather than later. And for parents I think that means you need to do three things: get much more familiar with the family safety features in YouTube profiles; consider additional content filtering in your operating system and/or third party solutions; and expect to monitor your kids' viewing more closely than before. 

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Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.