For about a year, my nine-year-old son has been asking for a YouTube channel of his own. My initial thought was absolutely not, but as he’s continued to watch various YouTube videos as I listen from the sidelines, I’ve changed my tune. His favorite YouTuber is a guy who plays video games while talking about them. Not my favorite, but the more I watched, the more value I saw in it. This YouTuber is diligent enough to shoot, edit, and post a new video every day; his attitude is positive; his language is clean.
The more I thought about it, I wanted to encourage my son, who has interests in theater and public speaking, to become more of a creator than a consumer. And while he doesn’t need to make videos to do this, it’s a powerful incentive to get my boy moving. So as my absolutely not turned into a tentative yes, we started learning more about the process. Here’s what we discovered.
Before You Start
YouTube is for people age 13 and up, according to YouTube’s terms of service. Therefore, videos including kids under 13 should always be “with oversight from a parent,” says Caroline Knorr, senior parenting editor at Common Sense Media. “It can be a great learning and bonding experience for the child and the parent, if the parent can provide guidance, and will be there as a sounding board in this new digital world.”
YouTube has many resources for families who create content, so make sure you read those first. When it comes to children in videos, Creating for YouTube Kids Guide urges creators to “put yourself in your viewers’ shoes—what may be considered OK for you and your family may not be OK for everyone.” Also, visit YouTube’s community guidelines for information on posting appropriate content, and read them with your kids.
To set up a channel, you’ll need to set up a Gmail account, or use an already existing Gmail account (Google is the parent company of YouTube). Consider creating a new Gmail account that can be used for the family. Log in to YouTube and sign in under the icon for your account; click on Creator Studio, then create a channel. For easy-to-follow tutorials, simply search “How to set up a YouTube channel” on YouTube and follow along.
You’ll also need a webcam, either external or built in to your computer, or a recording device and a tripod (an old smartphone is fine, as long as it has a lot of space for recording video). Whatever type of camera you use, just make sure you’re recording on one that can capture 1080p video or higher (high definition)—people will be more likely to subscribe to your channel if the video quality is good. You’ll also need some kind of video editing software on your computer.
Public or Private?
When her daughter Piper wanted a YouTube channel to share her art and digital animation, Arvada mom Elizabeth McGrath was worried about the type of comments she would receive. Elizabeth made Piper label her videos private with the comments turned off, for about a year. “She really chafed under those two rules as they really limited her ability to share,” Elizabeth remembers. “My daughter’s art is a huge part of who she is, and while my instinct was to protect her, I didn’t want to send the message that creativity isn’t safe. We had to find a balance between her need to share her work and the need to make sure she is safe.”
Now, at age 13, Piper’s account is public, has more than 700 subscribers, and receives many positive comments. Her parents ask that she still not use her real name or show her face, or reveal her location. “Even though I resisted allowing [comments],” Elizabeth says, “I think the validation has been a real confidence boost for her.”
Piper agrees it’s been a positive experience. “The most negative comment I got was someone saying I forgot to draw something one way,” she says. “It didn’t really bother me, because I liked how I drew it.”
Knorr advises families to keep their YouTube channel private at first, “so kids can get their ‘sea legs’ as to what is appropriate,” she says. If you want trusted friends and family to see it, send them the link. Ask them for feedback if you want it. “Do it for three months or whatever feels right,” Knorr suggests. “During that time, evaluate what worked and what didn’t work.”
Deciding on Content
Before posting videos, Elizabeth believes it’s important to talk to your child about what he or she wants to create. “I think the type of videos kind of determines the type of traffic the channel will receive,” she says. “Piper’s animations are mostly viewed by a niche group of other artists who support each other and want to see their friends succeed. If your kid’s videos are more aimed at a general audience, you may have more risk of the ‘you suck’ type comments.”
Knorr suggests that parents ask their child to create a proposal. Ask them to consider who the audience is and how often they’ll post.
Likewise, Victor Zaraya, president of Razor & Tie—the music label behind KIDZ BOP, which has a music channel on YouTubeKids—advises families to “figure out the tone of your channel before you start shooting content. Are you educational? Silly? Inspiring? The answer will guide you through the process. KIDZ BOP is all about music and fun. So, before we plan to shoot content—whether it’s a dance, song, challenge, or how-to—we ask: How can we make this as fun as possible?”
Toya Broyles, creator and owner of MyFroggyStuff Digital Media, a how-to crafting channel on YouTubeKids, says it’s important to create what you love, and talk about what you know. “My crafts are often inspired by my favorite movies, hobbies, and requests from my audience,” Broyles says.
When it comes to planning future content, Broyles gets inspiration from the world around her. “When you have an idea, write it down,” Broyles advises. “Create an idea book that you can reference for future videos. Make a schedule to post videos consistently.”
The process of video creation and sharing provides the opportunity to develop many life skills that can serve children (and parents) for years to come. If you see your child is passionate about his or her YouTube channel, “your enthusiasm and attention is the biggest encouragement they could ask for,” says Anya Kamenetz, education correspondent for NPR and author of The Art of Screen Time. Look for opportunities to help your kids learn and grow in the following ways.
- Mentoring relationships
- “Get in touch with others who have skills you’d like (your children) to develop, whether that be a teacher, a summer camp or after school leader, or someone online that they admire,” says Kamenetz. They can take the skills and ideas they learn to the family YouTube channel, but even if they don’t, they’ve learned something in the process.
- “I learned that it takes a lot of time and patience to make videos,” says Piper McGrath. “It’s definitely harder to get the results I want. Ever since I started making videos, I keep looking at films and animations and thinking, ‘wow, that must have taken a really long time to do that.’”
- Marketing concepts
- “To have success, you have to market appropriately,” Knorr says. “Ask yourself: What is your niche? Where do you fit in the landscape? How do you separate yourself from the pack? Find out what people like and then decide if that is important to you—maybe you are not doing it for everyone.”
- “I’ve seen incredibly talented young musicians and dancers, and I’ve watched my own six-year-old daughter gain confidence in speaking and presentational skills by shooting videos and watching herself, although we don’t post anything publicly,” says Kamenetz.
- Google offers tools for YouTube users to see what videos are popular, where their audience is coming from, and more. “YouTube wants their creators to use the analytic tools,” Knorr says, adding that the company offers video and written tutorials and webinars on the subject.
- Video production skills
- The more you learn about proper lighting, sound, and video quality, the better your videos will become. “I’ve met 12-year-olds who have video-making and editing skills that they could already get paid for,” says Kamenetz.
- Tell your kids to be cautious about what they reveal in a video. For example, a video tour of your home is probably not a good idea, nor would be the comment, “here are crafts that I make when I’m home alone on Thursday nights.”
It’s also a collaborative project. “The process of shooting, editing, and posting videos is inherently collaborative,” says Kamenetz. “It could be a great family project.”
Safer Viewing Options
Not ready to dive into family YouTube video creation just yet? Find inspiration to do more off camera when you download and watch videos on the YouTubeKids app. New features are available that give parents even more content control, including:
- Collections of videos by trusted partners, such as Sesame Workshop and PBS KIDS. Parents can easily select only the channel collections and topics they want their kids to access, by going into Profile Settings.
- Parent approved content. Coming soon, parents can handpick every video and channel they want to be available to their child in the app.
- Improved “search-off” control. Parents have always been able to turn off the search feature, but now, when parents do so, their kids will not get broader recommendations from YouTubeKids. Recommended videos your kids will see will be limited to channels that have been verified by the YouTubeKids team.