Is it safe to let kids put their original videos on YouTube?
May 29, 2014 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Trying to think/work through my conflicted feelings on this. My awesome and creative kids (8 and 11) are getting into making videos, and of course they want to put them on YouTube. They're all excited about being able to check back and see how many views they've got - my daughter wants to do reviews of YA books, my son wants to do a video blog where he reviews sodas and candy and fun stuff like that. But I just don't know if I feel safe uploading them.

On the one hand, I'm aware of "Charlie bit my finger" and the kid who's all woozy after his trip to the dentist, so I know parents put up video of their kids all the time. But on the other hand, something feels inherently unsafe about it, and I can't quite figure out what I'm worried about. What's the best current thinking on this? I suppose at a bare minimum I would disable comments on their posts. Am I overthinking this? Or am I right to be apprehensive?
posted by jbickers to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think you're unreasonable to be apprehensive about this and good on you for listening to your gut. YouTube is a cruel and crazy universe. I would definitely, as you said, disable the comments. I also wouldn't let them use their real names.

This might not work, but any chance the kids can dress up in costume to do their reviews? It's something fun that also works to obscure their identity.
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:39 AM on May 29, 2014

I would let them. I also teach high school and my students (age 13-18) put their videos both on my channels and on their own. In the last three years I've been using YT with my students, I've only had two parents say they weren't okay with it. That's out of about 600 kids. However, they are a bit older.

I would let them and see if it's something they like and are willing to maintain. I would also disable ratings and comments for sure. Then also make sure they don't give away any personal information and only use their first name and don't mention school name, city name, friends, teachers, family, etc. You should also preview anything they put online.

But yes - YouTube is changing dramatically and this sort of thing - even with kids as young as yours, and even younger - is commonplace. As an English teacher and creator in my own right, I love that students are learning digital media on their own terms and doing something they are passionate about. I have learned A TON through my own adventures in YouTube.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:42 AM on May 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

I might let them do it if they never showed their faces or used their real names. So, e.g. SodaKid3000 narrates POV videos (in the style of Ashens, where you only see the reviewed product and the narrator's hands) of soda reviews.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 10:43 AM on May 29, 2014

Definitely disable comments and no real names. Some vloggers do not film their full face. Usually aiming the camera so it cuts off from the nose up.
posted by unicornologist at 10:43 AM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, and because I do this with my students too....I have one word:


When kids use the puppets, they are only using their voice and they are even more hidden than if they were using their face. Plus, who doesn't love puppets?!

I have lots of examples that I can send you through memail if you're interested.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:44 AM on May 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: If they can't show their faces that'll ruin the whole thing for them - they're as much in this for developing some acting and broadcasting skills as for the editing. This goes back to my gut feeling that I can't understand - on some level, it does feel wrong to show their faces. But Charlie and his brother didn't have their faces obscured. What's the problem with people seeing their face?

(I totally get the part about real name/location/school/etc.)
posted by jbickers at 10:46 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you put pictures of them on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, etc.? If you google their names or yours, can you find their pictures in the google image results?

If so, is this any different?
posted by guster4lovers at 10:48 AM on May 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

I believe YouTube terms of service require the user to be at least 13 years of age. Obviously, you could be the "user" and you are just filming your children (as happens). They, however, cannot have their own accounts.

You can make videos private, which may be a good middle ground -- the videos are not publicly searchable and can only be accessed by authorized users. Then you could allow maybe just their friends and relatives to have access to the videos. As they get older (and also prove that they're responsible about using the site), they can move to the unlisted setting and then the public setting.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:52 AM on May 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

We did an odd middle ground with our kids, who are similar in age to the OP's: we made their videos private, and only share them with family members and their immediate friends. It doesn't scratch the "strangers like my stuff" itch, but it does let them do stuff without causing us (their parents) any particular concern for their safety. When they get a little older I'm sure we'll be less helicopter-y about this, but we're not quite there yet.

On preview, exactly what melissasaurus said in the comment above.
posted by mosk at 10:54 AM on May 29, 2014

I recall a reasonably well-known case of harassment (maybe someone else will remember it) where a young girl (maybe 10 or 11?) was posting reviews of mini-meals on the YouTube. She was harassed for being female. I think there's probably no danger in showing their faces, but comments and ratings should be disabled, because YouTube is a cesspool.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 10:54 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I get feeling apprehensive about this. When I was growing up, it was taken as a given that your internet presence should be as anonymous as possible: no real names, no photos, no location more specific than your state or greater metro area. But even being completely pseudonymous and obscuring everything about your real identity wouldn't help you avoid internet-based drama and bullying.

If it's creepers and predators you're worried about, avoiding real names and obscuring any real-life identifying information should be enough. Screen or disable comments and keep an eye on the account, and I don't think you'll have anything to worry about. All that should also allow you to nip any bad behavior (by your kids or others) in the bud.

Honestly, I think 8 is a little young for this, and I would definitely have your 8 year old's videos set to private. 11 seems like a more reasonable age to start joining and participating in online communities (with adult supervision/approval, obviously).
posted by yasaman at 10:57 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know if it's unsafe in the sense of, like, someone abducting your kids after seeing their faces online.

But what does sound sketchy to me is that it sounds like the projects your kids want to do mostly involve them "driving the bus" so to speak. They would be independently creating the content, uploading things, and using their accounts to do god knows what. And there's a reason that, for at least a decade now, most sites require you to be 13 to have an account. They're wanting responsibilities that they're by all accounts too young for.

If this was you creating content featuring them (a la "Charlie Bit My Finger"), running the account, editing the videos, etc. I think it would be probably OK. But is that something you want to do? It would ultimately be your hobby, not theirs. And it sounds like that's not really what they're asking for, either, if they're interested in things like how much traffic their videos get.

If it were my kids, I'd say, "You can do this when you're old enough to have your own YouTube account, which would be a privilege you would have to demonstrate you're ready to be given."

And then turn them loose with a video camera do make whatever they want, privately.

I also love the idea of puppetry or animation. Maybe volunteer to set up a family YouTube account in the interim, which you will upload to with one creative constraint: their faces cannot appear on camera. This would also add a learning curve element, which would mean less workload for you in administering the account (it will take time to come up with ideas and time to execute them, as opposed to "MOM I MADE 30 REVIEWS OF CANDY TODAY PLEASE UPLOAD NOW") and also a bigger payoff in terms of this being about learning to do a thing rather than fame and virality and all that silliness.

Have they seen "Marcel The Shell With Shoes On"?

(FWIW I have a facebook friend who was a theatre major in college, married to a musician, and she has an entire online brand for her preschool age son's music. I find it disturbing to say the least.)
posted by Sara C. at 11:04 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I clearly need to clarify: I am teaching them the video editing and audio recording and all of that good stuff. They are not driving the bus in any sense except creative, and performing. It's my YouTube account - they don't have any online accounts, nor are they allowed to have any social interactions online, obviously WAY too soon for that.

(And thank you for all the good advice so far, y'all.)
posted by jbickers at 11:10 AM on May 29, 2014

I've licensed kids' videos from YouTube for use in all sorts of projects, and most parents were thrilled to tiny bits. I'd disable comments, have the contact mailbox go to an adult and watermark the videos. They can give themselves silly names or titles, rather than use real names.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:11 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah I mean if you want to take on the hobby of creating and uploading your kids' product reviews to YouTube as a thing that you enjoy doing in your spare time, then by all means.

I don't think simply appearing in a video on the internet is dangerous to them in any realistic actual harm-causing way.
posted by Sara C. at 11:24 AM on May 29, 2014

My wife and I went through this a while back with our son. We have very different opinions on just how scary a place the internet is.

She didn't want him posting his face on videos on-line and I pointed out that, if we were at the beach and a Boston Globe photographer took his picture, we'd be thrilled if it was going to be on the front page in full color, complete with his name and the town he's from. That's been going on for decades and nobody ever seems to get into danger because of it.

He also goes to church, school, friends houses, does sports, and goes to any number of other places where people have been occasionally known to harm kids more than they do because they saw a video of them on YouTube.

So he posts stuff on YouTube. Goofy videos, Minecraft walkthroughs, etc. Hell, he's on the About Page for a certain community weblog.

As others have recommended, we also disable comments and the contact email comes to me. He knows not to give anyone on-line any personal information or use his full name.

He's twelve now and as he grows he's getting more and more freedom to do things on-line, just like how he used to ride his bike in the driveway and now he's free to roam the neighborhood. Soon he'll be free to ride downtown by himself.
posted by bondcliff at 11:26 AM on May 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

When I was a kid, my friends and I made all sorts of goofy videos. Youtube did not exist then. I am very glad that it wasn't around or I would likely have uploaded the videos and they would forever be on the internet to haunt me.

My concern about making videos public is more about how your kids' future selves will feel about these videos still being available when they are adults.
posted by parakeetdog at 12:01 PM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: parakeetdog, that is a really good point that I had never considered.
posted by jbickers at 12:06 PM on May 29, 2014

Small clarification about the 13 year old limit. That's a legal liability thing that the sites are trying to avoid. More info on those questions from here. In general, danah is a good resource for thinking about kids online.

I agree that the risks here are not plausibly about stalkers or molesters or kidnapping or anything; danah makes some pretty convincing arguments that threats to kids are way more weighted towards people they know in their lives than strangers. Stranger danger is super over-imagined in most people's minds thanks to misleading reporting for the last few decades, and it causes parents to fret about what are probably the wrong risks.

Realistically I think your primary concerns should be future embarrassment and shaming comments. I think all your instincts about keeping it non-identifiable are good for easing those issues. I wouldn't necessarily turn comments OFF though, just make them require approval. Getting positive feedback is so incredibly motivating that shutting down that opportunity entirely would be a shame. But as long as you're throttling that stuff it sounds like a great experience for everyone!
posted by heresiarch at 1:04 PM on May 29, 2014

Regarding the kids' future selves, I don't think that it'll be an issue. My daughter's eleven, and it seems clear to me that the kids in her demographic are *all* going to have these videos of themselves out there. If the kids aren't recording Minecraft videos, their parents are recording the kids doing whatever and plastering it all over Facebook and the like. I feel like the Facebook-type vids are a lot more likely to be embarrassing, in the long run.
posted by MeghanC at 1:21 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ensure that info and links in and on the videos that could potentially identify/locate them is restricted, either turn off or moderate the comments, preview all videos before uploading, and SUPERVISE them when they're on the computer, and really, there isn't that much to worry about.

People in your actual community have far easier access to your kids, know much more about them, and in all honesty, present a much greater risk of danger than highly supervised YouTube-ing.
posted by stormyteal at 12:10 AM on May 30, 2014

A note, if you wait until they are "old enough" (13 or whatever is old enough) then they will be generating their online presence likely without your closest supervision that you can provide now. An 8 yo, for example, will learn much from you about what is appropriate. A 13 yo is going to be much more independent and may miss out on earlier lessons if they don't start younger. I think of this with email, for example. If a child waits until high school to have an email account then the parents are unlikely to have as much involvement as if they start somewhat earlier.
posted by RoadScholar at 4:52 AM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I found out just this morning that my 11-year-old son made a video of him playing a game on the computer and uploaded it last night. He was excited to tell me. "I got 26 views overnight! And two thumbs up and no thumbs down!"

It left me feeling slightly uneasy (like you), but he knows he can't use his name or location or anything, so I'm not too worried.
posted by tacodave at 3:40 PM on May 30, 2014

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