What Parents Need to Know About YouTubeThis summer, the hottest movies weren’t at the neighborhood cineplex. Must-see videos now open online where thousands of amateur videographers post short clips made with portable cameras or even cell phones. These so-called “video snacks” are so irresistible that Youtube.com, one of the first sites to post videos, actually bypassed MySpace as most visited website earlier this year. Naturally, this kind of success has inspired competition. Google, AOL and a variety of other websites also offer video clips now.
When they are carefully chosen, watching online videos together can actually bring parents and kids closer. Many clips feature the pure silliness beloved by six to fourteen year olds. Others are clever, poignant or genuinely thought-provoking. If your kids have already discovered video sites, ask to see their favorite clips. Or browse to find your own picks. The videos are short so it doesn’t take much time, and most sites group them into categories like sports, music, animals, animation or “most watched.” Critiquing these mini-movies with your kids is part of the fun. Help them develop critical judgment by encouraging more than a simple thumbs up or down.
Before letting younger kids browse video sites alone, talk about videos that are off limits. YouTube, for example, encourages viewers to report videos that include “nudity, graphic violence or hate.” If you or your child come across such a video, flag it as “inappropriate.” Even without nudity, some videos are too adult for kids. To its credit, YouTube identifies these videos with a screen that asks for viewers to confirm they are 18. Be sure your child knows not to go beyond such barriers.
Also, despite the caveat about violence, online videos may include stunts which are, at best, stupid and, at worst, cruel or even criminal. One YouTube video, for example, shows friends “tossing” another friend just for fun. The teen lands on his head, and the video ends without showing the aftermath which probably included an emergency room trip. Help your child distinguish between genuine humor and sadistic pranks.
Some kids, of course, will be inspired to make and post their own clips. Although videos can be a creative outlet for adolescents, parents should keep tight control over what’s posted online. Regardless of their technical capabilities, kids thirteen and under should make only home movies to be shared with friends and family. Even older kids should get permission before posting a video online. Parents, after all, paid for the camera or cellphone as well as the Internet connection that makes posting possible, so they are entitled to make rules about what videos go public just as they make rules about when and where the family car can be driven.
At the very least, parental review will give kids a glimpse into how their video might be received not only by their peers but also by the adults who increasingly are keeping track of what’s posted online. School officials, law enforcement officers, prospective employers and even the National Security Agency are starting to monitor what’s on video websites. Most kids still don’t fully understand the repercussions of putting personal material online, so parents should ask these questions before they post.
Does the video contain anything illegal or dangerous?
One of the most disturbing video trends is the use of cellphone cameras to capture fights and other crimes. In one case, teens actually set fights to music and sold them. Because violence is so prevalent in commercial movies, kids may need to be reminded that real life violence is a crime not entertainment. Parents should also point out that the police have begun to use such videos to pinpoint and prosecute participants. Ditto for videos which show underage drinking or drug use at any age.
Does the video identify you?
Most kids are now smart enough to know they don’t want their name, address or phone number online. But they may be oblivious to the kind of identifying information that might show up in a video. Check for revealing details such as a wide shot of your home, a curb address, a license plate or a T-shirt with the logo for your child’s school.
Does the video violate anyone’s privacy?
Not everyone wants to be in pictures. Professional photographers get written releases from people who appear in their images. Your child should at the very least get permission from people who are in his or her video. This is especially true if he or she has captured a friend or, for that matter, a stranger doing something that is potentially embarrassing.
Are you prepared for comments?
For many kids, the opportunity to get instant feedback on their video is part of the appeal of online video sites. On the other hand, many of the comments posted are crass or even cruel. Kids who don’t have a thick skin may want to look for more supportive venues.
Are you willing to give up ownership?
In the fine print of the agreement on the YouTube and other sites, contributors grant video websites the right to use their videos in other ways such as a collection of funniest clips. Of course, by posting a video online, young artists effectively give up control of where and when their creation will be viewed. Also, in the future, search engines may be able to search images as easily as they now do words. Parents have to help kids imagine themselves as a thirty year old with a job, a family and, perhaps, political ambitions. Will this video still seem like a good idea?
Some people claim these rules are irrelevant because online videos are simply part of the fifteen minutes of fame everyone is entitled to have. Perhaps. But it seems just as likely that kids whose parents protect them from posting—or viewing—videos that are too revealing, immature, cruel or stupid will be genuinely grateful when they get a little older.
Carolyn Jabs has an M.A. in online ethics and is the mother of three computer savvy kids. View her website www.growing-up-online.com.