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Caution urged with YouTube Kids app

NASHVILLE (BP) — Google’s new YouTube Kids app may be a welcomed addition to children-friendly entertainment, but parents should still study the programming before exposing their children to its content, some Baptist communicators say.

As more companies release these types of apps, parents need to determine whether an organization’s definition of “kid-friendly” matches their own definition, said Darrel Girardier, digital strategy director for Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tenn.

“I’m finding that while a good portion of the content is more okay for my child to consume, not all the content represents something that I want my child to model,” Girardier told Baptist Press. “Parents are going to need to spend [time] doing some additional curating with these apps and understand that the ‘default’ setting probably won’t cut it.”

Google markets the free app, launched in February, as a method of safe and easy access to family-friendly shows, music and educational programs on topics of interest to children. It includes parental controls and has received favorable reviews on Google, averaging 4.1 out of 5. More than three-fourths of reviewers rated the app 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale.

Michael Foust, a blogger about family issues and the father of three small children, also cautioned parents to be aware of the content available through the app.

“YouTube Kids, despite its innocent name, contains content that many conservative Christian parents would want their children to avoid,” Foust, a former associate editor for Baptist Press, told BP. “A quick search provides videos on evolution, Islam and Hinduism. Like any other electronic gadget or new app, parental guidance is strongly encouraged.”

The app can be used constructively in parenting if proper caution is applied, Foust noted.

“I tested it, and it does indeed do a stellar job of filtering out the worst of YouTube. It even includes some good Christian content. That said, parents should not give their children blanket usage of YouTube Kids,” he said. “Most children already receive too much screen time, and YouTube Kids — like the adult version — can be extremely addictive. Before you know it, you’ve spent an hour watching pointless videos and chasing video rabbit trails — time better spent reading or playing outside.”

Girardier, Like Foust, considers the app a welcomed addition to kid-friendly programming options.

“It’s great to see more companies like Google and Netflix attempt to curate content that is deemed appropriate for children and package it in an easy … format,” he said.

Girardier offered additional cautions.

“Apps like these encourage parents to let these devices babysit their kids,” he said. “As a parent, I myself have handed my iPhone to my child so my wife and I could have a few moments of uninterrupted conversation.

“… These apps and devices reinforce the fact that the boundaries between us and media [are] continuing to fall,” he said, questioning whether children would be disciplined enough to take breaks from apps to maintain balance or perspective. “For our children, they won’t know what it’s like to be bored since entertainment is always at arms’ length.”

Google advertises YouTube Kids, available on Google Play and the App Store in the U.S., as the first Google product built from the ground up with children in mind. The app is said to have a bright and playful design and allows parents to control the length of time children can use the app, and sound and search settings.

“For years, families have come to YouTube, watching countless hours of videos on all kinds of topics,” Google said in a press release announcing the new app. “Now, parents can rest a little easier knowing that videos in the YouTube Kids app are narrowed down to content appropriate for kids. You can browse channels and playlists in four categories: Shows, Music, Learning and Explore. Or search for videos of particular interest to your family, like how to build a model volcano, math tutorials, the amazing (and endless) world of trains — and everything in between.”