With access to media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube almost constant in many households, monitoring a child’s digital diet can feel like a full-time job. But experts say it is vital work.
“Understanding the rules of engagement, content moderation, user settings, parental controls and community standards is important…when having a discussion with a child about the benefits and drawbacks of using these platforms,” says Ari Lightman, a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.
While the platforms in use will be different in every household — not all parents will allow their children to use social media apps like Snapchat — statistics show YouTube is almost universal. More than half of U.S. children ages 8 to 12 said they watch online videos every day, according to a 2019 survey by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that provides independent research for parents and educators. In that age group, often called “tweens,” 76% said that they regularly use YouTube and 53% called it their preferred media platform.
But even channels targeting middle schoolers and teens can contain content that is not age-appropriate, says Teodora Pavkovic, a psychologist, parenting coach and digital wellness expert.
“It’s incredibly important that parents educate themselves on cyber safety and digital wellness issues and pass on that knowledge to their children,” she says. “This knowledge is one of the keys to helping children benefit from the online world and remain outside of its inappropriate spaces.”
Avoiding Adult Themes
Entertainment channels dominate YouTube, but experts say many popular choices are not appropriate for children. Channels such as Logan Paul, PewDiePie and RiceGum may appeal to middle schoolers, but sometimes contain adult language, adult relationship themes, cultural insensitivity, heavy consumerism or the use of shock humor and risky behavior, Pavkovic says.
“For parents of younger middle schoolers, I would lean toward avoiding these channels altogether,” she says. “For those with older middle schoolers I would strongly encourage open conversations around all of these themes. If the decision is made to consume this content, continue to have those conversations frequently.”
Of course, there is plenty of age-appropriate content to be found on YouTube, and parents can serve as guides and role models for their children, says Denise Daniels, a parenting and child development expert and creator of The Moodsters. “We need to put the (virtual) world in context for our kids and teach our children the values we want them to take away from these shows,” Daniels says.
For parents looking for age-appropriate content for middle schoolers, here are some examples.
Five YouTube Channels for Entertainment
Created by actor Rainn Wilson, who famously played the character Dwight Schrute in “The Office,” SoulPancake was designed “to chew on life’s biggest questions,” Wilson said in a recent video. The channel has featured popular series such as “Kid President” and “The Science of Happiness.” SoulPancake was acquired in 2016 by Participant Media, a company that produces entertainment designed to inspire social change.
Identical twins Niki and Sammy Albon post light-hearted weekly videos, challenges, games and recipes that middle schoolers enjoy. Not only do the British YouTube influencers create comedic content to make viewers laugh, but they share their personal struggles and victories in ways that make them incredibly relatable.
Comedy duo Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal post fresh material every weekday, exploring new trends and products, hosting celebrity guests and eating unusual foods in their “Taste Test” segment. The pair tells stories, sings songs, endures weird challenges and more in the interest of entertainment.
Featuring real, up-close wildlife encounters, Brave Wilderness allows young adventure-lovers to learn about the natural world and the importance of conservation via animal-based entertainment. Hosts Nathaniel “Coyote” Peterson, Mark Vins and Mario Aldecoa share their love and wonder of nature in a family-friendly format that strives to cultivate environmental responsibility.
“Kids React” and “Teens React” are two age-appropriate series on the award-winning YouTube Channel REACT. All of the material on REACT consists of unscripted reactions to a wide array of viral videos, trends, video games and more.
Five YouTube Channels for Education
Ted-Ed is an education initiative by the nonprofit media organization TED, creators of the now-ubiquitous TED talk. The channel’s mission is to support learning through a library of original animated videos and interactive, teacher-led lessons. Topics vary widely, from the history of electric cars to how the smallpox virus was tamed.
With simple explanations for complex topics like “Why is the Solar System Flat?” and “What Atoms Really Look Like,” Minute Physics provides white-board physics lessons in less than a minute, making science interesting and accessible.
With free, interactive lessons on topics like science, history, math, grammar and finance, Khan is a resource students can use to enhance their educational experience. Videos cover many levels of learning and are available in dozens of languages.
The Brain Scoop, from the Field Museum in Chicago, takes viewers on a journey into natural history with each video. It features interviews with scientists and a behind-the-scenes look at natural history museums, including virtual tours of exhibits and deep dives into the work that goes into preparing specimens.
Created and often hosted by brothers John and Hank Green, Crash Course is full of “educational content that’s helpful for as many people as possible.” Videos cover a broad range of topics, from zoology and organic chemistry to literature and world history.
Searching for a school? Explore our K-12 directory.
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