How to Use YouTube's Parental Controls

In case your child's search for funny cat videos takes a wrong turn

Kids looking at a computer screen
Photo: FatCamera / Getty Images
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YouTube, the world's favorite video sharing site, can become a parent's nightmare, especially if you have curious kids.

I remember when my son first encountered YouTube. He was four years old and his grandmother was helping him search for videos of his favorite TV show: The Wiggles. His grandmother happened to click on one video that seemed harmless but was actually a mash-up of The Wiggles dancing to a gangsta rap song that had been dubbed over the original audio, replacing it with vulgar curse-laden lyrics.

The cognitive dissonance caused by him seeing his beloved Wiggles seemingly sing explicit rap music blew his little four-year-old mind and he began crying inconsolably. He still has nightmares to this day from the experience.

While YouTube may be screened for extremely explicit violent and sexual content, it's still something of a wild frontier, containing a huge volume of garbage that kids shouldn't have access to.

Now that my son is older, he wants to visit YouTube to watch the latest videos that his friends at school are talking about (most of his favorites usually involve someone doing something stupid on a trampoline). As a parent, I have the responsibility to play the role of Internet traffic cop; unfortunately for me, the Internet is a 50 million lane highway. There's no V-chip for YouTube like there is for the Television, but there are a couple of things you can do to try and keep your kids a little safer.

Please note that there are no guarantees that these safeguards will keep even half of the video trash out there from reaching your children's eyes, but something is at least better than nothing.

Here are some parental controls you can set for YouTube:

Enable YouTube Safety Mode in Your Web Browser

Safety Mode is YouTube's current parental control offering.

Safety Mode attempts to filter YouTube search results so that the bad stuff is hopefully weeded out. It also prevents your child from viewing material that has been flagged as inappropriate by the YouTube community or has been marked for mature audiences only by the content's creator. Safety Mode is mainly meant to limit the content of an explicit nature. YouTube makes no guarantees that it will be 100% effective at screening out the bad stuff, but at least it's a start.

To enable YouTube Safety Mode, follow these steps:

1. Log in to your Google or Youtube account.

2. Go to the site in your web browser.

3. Click on the Safety button near the bottom of the YouTube homepage.

4. Click On. If you receive a message after clicking the on button that says "You can lock the Safety Mode setting after you sign in" then you are not logged into Google / YouTube. Click the "sign in" link if needed.

5. Check the box that says "Lock safety mode on this browser".

6. Click Save.

After you've clicked the save button, the page you were on will reload and you will see a banner near the top of the page that shows a check mark with the words "Successfully enabled Safety Mode" next to it.


In order to prevent your child from just turning safety mode off, you must log out of your Google / YouTube account by clicking your username link in the top right-hand corner of the browser window. This will effectively lock the setting in for the browser you are using, preventing your child from disabling Safety Mode. You will need to repeat this process for all other web browsers that are on your computer (i.e. Firefox, Safari, etc).

Enable YouTube Safety Mode on Your Mobile Device

Safety Mode may also be available on your mobile device's YouTube app. Check the settings area of the mobile app to see if it is an option.

The process for locking the feature should be similar to the process above.

Will YouTube Safety Mode keep your kids safe from all of the junk that's on YouTube? Probably not, but it is better than doing nothing at all, and it has been my experience that it did manage to weed out some content that would not have been safe for my kids to view.

You can find out more about YouTube's Safety Mode from the YouTube Safety Mode Support Page.