Dear Tech-y
Dear Tech-y

Dear Tech-y,

I just read two articles (one and two) about videos on YouTube and YouTube Kids that appear to be for children but are actually teaching children methods for self-harm. I don't know if this is a hoax or not, but I don't want my children exposed to these ideas.

Anonymous Parent

Dear Anonymous,

This type of content is very concerning and I'm glad that a parent was able to speak up and get some of the videos taken down. But, as the CBS news article points out, 

"...she's reported hundreds of unsettling videos to YouTube, with some success. On Friday, she found and reported seven more disturbing videos on YouTube Kids, and said they were just the tip of the iceberg."

This is also not the first time that YouTube Kids has been the source of a scandal due to inappropriate content. This is why they recently built in more parental controls into their app. 

Additionally, YouTube Kids has the word "kids" in the title, which can lead us to believe that the content has been curated. That's not quite so. Read more about how content is filtered on YouTube and YouTube Kids. 

At Laurence, we have a robust firewall and content restrictions that lock down the YouTube website. Many videos, even appropriate ones, are blocked by default. So, if a teacher would like to release a piece of content, they need to approve it for our students to view. That said, nothing is 100% foolproof and inappropriate content can sometimes slip through. At the beginning of the year we remind students to report such content to their teachers or the Tech Team so we can take action. It's the partnership between the Tech Team, teachers, and students that keeps the internet a safe place at school. 
Let's generalize this discussion from focusing on one particular issue, self-harm content on YouTube, and recognize that there are many topics that we want to protect our kids from accidentally being exposed to across all of the internet. 

So...what can we do as parents? 

Firstly, if you or your child(ren) see something inappropriate on YouTube or another app, report it. Second, if you haven't done so already, you and your family need to clarify your philosophy and rules about internet use at home. Here are some examples of different questions to consider: 

Does your child need to ask permission before using a device? An app? The internet?
Do you want to use a variety of parental controls to monitor and filter content out? (Keep in mind, nothing will be able to filter out inappropriate content 100% of the time.) 
Do you want to keep the internet completely open and have a plan for what your child(ren) should do if they come across inappropriate content? 

We have two documents on the Digital Citizenship page of the Parent Portal that can help you to clearly outline your thought processes and expectations around tech at home: the Our Media Plan and the Suggested Family Agreement.

Whether you decide to create a plan for your family around technology use or not, please consider keeping screens out of the bedroom and in common areas of the house. There many reasons for this that go beyond safety, like sleep hygiene. But, in terms of safety, kids are kids. They're naturally curious and are very good at figuring out workarounds despite our best efforts to limit access. It's much easier to be sneaky if you have access to a device behind a closed door. 

Lastly, no matter where you land on the spectrum (heavily restricting content to keeping everything completely open), please remember that nothing is a substitute for your mentorship and guidance as a parent to prepare your child(ren) for the reality of the world wide web.

Please join Mark Tennyson and me for one of the upcoming drop-in parent digital citizenship groups on:

  • Tuesday, March 12th, from 8:05-9:05 am - Bring in your devices from home. We'll talk about the privacy controls available to you and we'll help you select the options you want to turn on or off on your devices and apps. 
  • Monday, April 8th, from 8:05-9:05 am
  • Monday, May 6th, from 8:05-9:05 am
  • Monday, June 3rd, from 8:05-9:05 am

Don't forget that we have lots of resources available to you on the Digital Citizenship page in the Parent Portal!

Also, if you have a question for the techies, please submit it anonymously to me via email with the subject line, Dear Tech-y.

Liz Beck
Director of Technology