Kids & Screens: Can I Have a Youtube Channel?
My children know where I stand on social media and creating new accounts. They generally know not to create an account on any platform without permission (though I have made some discoveries in retrospect...). But it is difficult to know exactly how to respond when the request comes from a genuine interest.
At this point, they've obviously thought it through carefully and will have reasons and valid arguments for their case. I am also aware that, privacy and safeguarding issues aside, there are many positive things about most of these platforms. Websites like YouTube and Pinterest are fun and can encourage creativity.
To watch tutorials, you don't need to create an account. This how my kids have watched YouTube for years. They sometimes complain about not being able to 'like and subscribe' but overal don't seem too worried. However, to be a creator, you do need an account. And, apparently, to get access to specific crafts-related content on Pinterest, you also need one.
Here are some strategies I've used to respond to such requests.
Hold off on 'yes'
Or perhaps it should be 'hang on to your "No"' - you can only let it go once. As a parent and teacher I know it's very difficult to navigate backtracking on something you've agreed to. Whether fair or not, my kids know that I'll not likely agree the first time they ask. I may do some investigating into how privacy works on the requested platform, or just allow myself some time to think about whether joining is a good idea. My children are not obsessive and know how to play the long game and be patient. Perhaps holding on to 'no' a while longer is also a way to see if the request is serious.
As part of the stalling strategy, I will also begin to ask questions, to get a better sense of what exactly they want the new product for.
I usually do check if school has anything to do with the request. I don't think it is fair of schools to ask families to sign up to social media platforms, which does happen. The teacher is probably working on the assumption that everyone uses Instagram, TikTok and SnapChat, but schools should think such requests through more carefully. Good news is that some schooling systems in several European countries seem to be taking steps in a better direction, using Linux and Nextcloud-based apps for their platforms, for example.12
If the only reason to get an account is social pressure, then I don't think it's a very compelling argument, and try to explain that. I do remember being a student, and how important it is to belong, so you have to be willing to compromise some. When I was growing up, my parents had very strict rules about television - much stricter than anything my classmates were subjected to - and I'm still not sure if that approach had the best outcomes. I'm quite addicted to television today, playing catch-up.
Often the questioning process can help you get to the bottom of what it is they want to do, which can lead to healthy negotiations towards a compromise.
One of my children really wanted to create gaming video content. I know from past experience with Instagram that the process of creating, publishing, and getting a response can really encourage creativity and personal growth. Some artist I know say it's better to produce new things constantly rather than get too hung up on production details. Publishing a lot of original content fast is a good way to learn.
The compromise made was that my kids can create and publish their gaming walk-throughs and goofy videos but without filming themselves. Voice-overs are OK. This has worked and led to quite a bit of creative output. I've been proud to see my child learn video and audio editing, and pleased to learn they were using open source software.
Limit the rate of new platforms
I spoke to one colleague recently, and he suggested the 'one new platform per year' approach. So if TikTok was the app of choice, it was allowed, but no YouTube channel that year. I am sure these parenting approaches sound terribly conservative and limiting to some readers, but I do worry that the opposite extreme - allowing everything and never monitoring anything - has already become the norm. I am interested in parents who dare take the road less traveled and try to find workable, fair ways to resist that mindless momentum.
Keep them on desktop
The documentary film The Social Dilemma (2020) reveals how the developers who built the 'like' button or the eternal scroll feature based their work on research in human science, in particular the psychology of addiction. Companies whose income depends on users constantly returning to their platforms focus much more on developing addictive features on smartphones than they do on desktop.3 The tactile and hypnotic motion of pulling down on the screen to see more content is an experience that can't really be replicated on desktop. To me, there is something more deliberate about sitting down at your desktop PC or with your laptop, compared the ease with which you can pull out your smartphone.
My children receive de-Googled, refurbished smartphones at an appropriate age but they leave them at home and carry (Nokia) dumbphones on them when they go out and need to be contactable. At home, I encourage watching YouTube on laptop, rather than have it installed on smartphones.
Manage the account
A final compromise that may work (and this is my plan for the Pinterest crafting request) is to allow your child onto a platform, but with an account created and managed by the parent, with a unique email address created for this purpose.
I had a very interesting exchange recently with a reader who argued that stopping your child from being able to access what their peers are able to could lead to the child being ostracized and even bullied at school. It sounded like this person was writing from experience. I appreciated the honesty in that comment. It made me think more deeply about my own parenting decisions. I think I am leaning to a somewhat more open approach now, but still think giving boundaries may work better in the long run than allowing a free-for-all.
I have once or twice discovered my child had created a new social media account without approval. It's best not to get angry but go over the rules. The times that it has happened, it occurred somewhat impulsively. The main thing is that they felt they could be honest about it.
Current use and looking ahead
My blog's title says enough: as The Privacy Dad, I am cautious about allowing unfettered access to everything. This is not just for privacy concerns, but there are safeguarding issues to worry about as well. I will address this in a separate post soon. For now, my children seem to accept that joining new platforms is a bit slow-going in our household, and they know some platforms (TikTok) are just off-limits altogether. Hopefully they are picking up on some reasoning skills in the process, and are learning that the best way to persuade someone is to come up with strong arguments and evidence. They continue to do most things on their laptops, with the exception of some messenger apps.
Documentary film The Social Dilemma(Jeff Orlowksi, 2020)
"Stop Using Social Media Apps. The Web Version Is Often Better"(Wired, December 2022)
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I did have some research on this, but cannot find it at the moment. I think it may have been described in Cal Newport's book Digital Minimalism. Will update. (Let me know if you have a good source!)↩