My wife and I were having dinner with some friends recently when I decided to show their four year-old twins a video from YouTube. I loaded up the app on my phone, searched for a video and played it but -- all the while -- I had a nagging fear that maybe I accidentally launched a video that's not appropriate for that age group. YouTube, as one would expect, has a wide variety of content and even though they have rules prohibiting nudity and violence, there is plenty there that's not suitable for four year-olds -- and that's as it should be. Still millions of children -- and their parents -- rely on YouTube for great content.
But the next time I visit our friends' house, I won't have to worry cause I'll be able to use the new YouTube Kids app with content for kids and only for kids. Or, as Shimrit Ben-Yair, mother of two and YouTube Kids Group Product Manager, posted on the YouTube blog, "It's the first Google product built from the ground up with little ones in mind."
Listen to Larry Magid's CBS News 1-minute segment about YouTube Kids
Personally, I think it's a brilliant idea and, after extensive testing of the product over the past few weeks, I've come to the conclusion that -- while nothing can replace parental involvement with their children's media use -- tools like YouTube Kids can be a parents' best friend because it helps them do their job better when it comes to finding age appropriate content.
Leading children's channels
The free app, which runs on Android and iOS, features content from leading children's entertainment and education brands including DreamWorks TV, Jim Henson TV, Mother Goose Club, National Geographic Kids, Sesame Street and other shows from PBS Kids. There is also a music section where children can enjoy music videos and a separate "learning" icon that brings up content from PBS Kids, Ted Ed, Kahn Academy and other sources of kid-friendly learning resources.
Yes, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, so parents can set a timer to control how long their kids can watch (it defaults to 30 minutes but can be extended to 1:20). And parents can also turn off background music -- something I recommend since you're likely to find it annoying after awhile even if your kid loves it. Parents can also turn off the search feature so their kids can only select from featured content.
The app is advertiser-supported but the ads are, of course, age-appropriate and relatively unobtrusive.
Personally, I think it's about time that Google released a kid-friendly app for its youngest users. And speaking of time, it's also about time management. Kids should be encouraged to consume age-appropriate entertainment and educational video, but -- like everything else in life -- it should be part of a balanced activity diet that also includes reading, conversations, exercise and plain-old playing.
Disclosure: I am co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support from Google. I was per-briefed on this product, tested early versions and provided feedback to Google on its features.