A quick guide to subscriptions and safety settings that will help you sleep at night
The most popular childrens’ YouTube vlogger in the UK right now isn’t a Minecraft gamer like DanTDM or Stampy or a lifestyle chatter like Zoella.
It’s a bro-vlogger called Logan Paul, who majors in pranks and manchild humor, including blundering around forests known for their popularity as a suicide location, tasering dead rats, and offending people with albinism. So far, not so great.
He’s down pretty low on my list of desirable role models for my two sons, unsurprisingly, but he represents a recent shift in what children are watching on YouTube, according to a recent study conducted by research firm Childwise.
“Children used to mainly follow wholesome, big-sister/brother types who offered chatty advice and company,” said research director Simon Leggett. “However, children’s favorite new vloggers are more edgy, with a style more akin to negative playground behavior where the most popular vloggers are the ones that do the worst possible things they can get away with on YouTube.”
The speed of this shift is catching a lot of parents out, me included. One moment, my 10-year-old was happy watching child-friendly Minecraftchannels, and the next he was singing filthy songs about Cristiano Ronaldo that he learned from his favorite football comedy channel and bingeing on prank-clip compilations of men (many cut from the same mold as Logan Paul) getting punched in the balls or pushed off walls.
Banning my son from watching individual channels is possible, but it also seems like the kind of whack-a-mole game that I can’t win in the long run. I’m trying to take a more constructive approach, which is to spend some time getting to grips with YouTube myself: seeking out the channels that are publishing videos that — to borrow a BBC motto — might educate, inform, andentertain my children. Without any rats (or testicles) being harmed in the process.
First Off, Those Safety Settings
It’s wise to be cautious when dealing with YouTube’s video recommendations — the “Up Next” videos that it automatically plays when your current video is finished. Even with some of these channels I’ve picked, Up Next can take you down some unsavory alleyways.
One measure you can take, from within YouTube’s settings menu, is to switch Restricted Mode to “on.”
This, in YouTube’s words, “hides videos that may contain inappropriate content that is flagged by users and other signals” — although you’ll need to do it once for each browser or app you use to access YouTube.
You can also disable the autoplay feature using the slider at the top of the Up Next column on YouTube’s website.
Find the Best Rabbit Holes
Here’s the thing: With its huge archive and search function, plus those Up Next recommendations, YouTube is an enormous rabbit hole of content, whatever your age. If you start watching prank videos and bro-vloggers, it’ll help you find more.
But if you go looking for interesting science, natural history, arts and crafts, and other educational videos and channels, you’ll find some brilliant ones — and the recommendations system will then kick in to help you find more.
That’s exactly what I did: Starting with some of the keywords above — “science,” for example — I searched for using those terms, then used YouTube’s filters to narrow down the results to channels rather than individual videos.
I clicked on the interesting-sounding channels, and, if they seemed worthwhile, I clicked the button to subscribe. But I also checked the right-hand column on the channel homepages, which suggested related channels.
Two hours on and I’d subscribed to 40 channels: from the Slow Mo Guys to the Science Museum; from Nat Geo Wild to SciShow, and from Tate Kids to Ted-Ed — taking in channels like Life Noggin, BrainCraft, Crash Course Kids, Physics Girl, and Vintage Space along the way.
Now when I click (or tap, for mobile) on the Subscriptions option on YouTube’s homepage, I get a feed of videos that are more suitable for my children, without being dry or dull. For example, this week’s fare includes:
- Bombardier Beetles Squirt Boiling Anal Chemicals to Make Frogs Vomit
- Why Does Salt Make Food Taste Better?
- This Special Training Keeps Astronauts from Vomiting Everywhere
- Slow Mo Belly Flop
- Fecal Shields, and 5 Other Ways Animals Use Poop
- Ride with an Olympic Bobsledder
I know what you’re thinking: “Good luck getting your kids to swap their current faves for your oh-so-worthy list of educational content.” It’s a fair point: As a parent who’s allowing their child on YouTube, it’s just about possible to stop them from viewing individual channels — until they visit a friend’s house, of course — but forcing them to start watching channels you approve of is a mug’s game.
What I’m trying is something different: carving out a separate moment — an hour one or two times a week — to sit down together and watch videos from my newly curated YouTube feed. It’s not part of their screen time, in other words—it’s bonus time, and something we do together.
(Obligatory caveat: This also isn’t a replacement for our nondigital time together. We’re still reading, walking, footballing, drawing, and doing all the off-the-screen activities.)
We’ll see if the appeal holds in the long term, but the exercise has certainly reminded me that there’s a lot more to YouTube than bro-vloggers, pranksters, and endless gaming videos. If the idea of curating your own family friendly feed appeals, my initial list of 40 channels is below — but please do post a response with your own suggestions for fun co-viewing, as I’m sure there are plenty that I’ve yet to discover.
One quick warning: Most of these aren’t specifically “children’s” channels, so there may be the odd video that you don’t think is suitable. It’s best if you make sure that you stay in charge of what to watch. You can even use YouTube’s playlists feature to cue up a selection in advance of co-viewing.
The 40 Channels I’m Subscribed To
Above the Noise
From PBS, this posts fortnightly videos exploring trending news topics.
American Museum of Natural History
Science, natural history, and the odd sloth.
Weekly science videos, often based on “what-if” questions or debates.
The Backyard Scientist
Molten metals and explosions a-go-go in this science channel.
Clips from the broadcaster’s stunning natural-history catalog.
Psychology and neuroscience, but with a light enough touch to watch with your children.
The Brain Scoop
The Field Museum in Chicago’s official channel, which digs into its collection with regular videos.
Twice-a-week videos on all things wildlife.
A British inventor whose creations range from Star Wars to rockets — with plenty of explosions.
Crash Course Kids
A biweekly show from the United States focusing on grade-school science topics.
All things spacey and robotics-y from Brit Paul Shillito, wearing “some of the loudest shirts on YouTube.”
Another PBS channel, this time exploring “big science by going very, very small.”
Epic History TV
Clever takes on historical topics blending animation, maps, and facts galore.
A weekly show looking at games, diving into a single topic each time.
Great Big Story
Short, newsy reports on interesting stories from around the world.
The one channel on this list that’s actually on hiatus, so you’ll need to visit its back catalog. Ace takes on science with an emphasis on the gruesome bits.
It’s Okay to Be Smart
Weekly science videos that are teaching me as much as they’re teaching my children.
Kurzgesagt — In a Nutshell
Concise and entertaining science videos “explaining things with optimistic nihilism.” Which you can’t have enough of, in my opinion.
More animation, this time focusing on life, the world, and everything about our brains.
Handy explainers for topics related to science, natural history, and our planet.
A similar channel for physics, which I thought — but was proved wrong — might be a bit challenging for my sons.
Nat Geo Wild
The latest videos from National Geographic’s animal antics.
Natural History Museum
My favorite museum as a child makes some great videos about its extensive archives of exhibits.
More videos on the brain and how it works.
Origin of Everything
Pop culture, technology, and historical vids from a “history nerd who will never shy away from a good debate or bad joke.”
PBS Idea Channel
Weekly videos looking at pop culture, tech, and art from PBS.
From glass breaking to levitating. If I had some of these vids as a teenager, I might not have given up on physics.
Red Ted Art
A British crafts channel with lots of interesting projects to make and do.
Sally Le Page
Science videos that “make you laugh, make you feel, and make you think” — all three claims are correct.
My other favorite museum as a child. There are some great explainer videos here, from superbugs to mind reading.
More “how” and “what-if” videos, based around a range of science topics.
Space, science, and even the sex life of slugs on this channel.
Animations giving famous historical topics a new spin.
The Slow Mo Guys
This channel’s focus is on super-slow-motion videos, and it keeps coming up with inventive ideas.
From space-walk livestreams to beautiful views of planets and moons, this has lots of space scenery to boggle at.
TED Talks with animations. Recent topics include the Inca empire, teeth, and why animals swarm.
Today I Found Out
Burning questions and historical curiosities jostle for your attention on this quick-fire channel.
Science, interesting places, and quirky question-answering mix together on this British YouTuber’s channel.
A science channel that, among other things, finally taught me why I sneeze at the sun.
Amy Shira Teitel is a marvelous guide to the present and past of space flight, digging well beyond the most famous topics.