YouTube: A Guide for Grown-ups

A YouTube lesson for parents

While scrolling through your Facebook feed in the last week or so, you may have seen some headlines about a YouTube star who made a video apparently showing a lifeless, hanging body in an area of Japan widely known as the “suicide forest.” It’s vile and dangerous, and it affects YOU. It matters to you because there’s a good chance your kids watch him. His name is Logan Paul, and he’s YUGE on YouTube. Never heard of him? Don’t worry. In a non-scientific poll of my middle-aged friends, not one of them had heard of Logan Paul. When I asked their kids, ages 8-16, they all said they’d seen his videos, and most subscribed to his YouTube channel. (Insert gasps from their well-meaning mothers and fathers.)
Listen, these parents have jobs and lives, and they’re busy keeping their kids alive. When they can sit down and relax, they may scroll Facebook or Instagram or read a book with actual pages. (Insert gasps from me.) I’m generalizing, but parents can get lost in the land of YouTube. It can be overwhelming. A quote from one of my best friends: “I really thought it was just cat videos.” But here’s the thing — when your kids have opportunities for screen time, there’s a good chance they’re on YouTube. They understand it, they love it, and it’s not going away.

So I’m here to teach you, my friends, the basic language and ecosystem of YouTube.
And then I’m going to offer some suggestions on channels we love and let our own children watch without worry.

First, our qualifications: We have two YouTube channels — our music channel and a new VLOG channel. (A vlog is just a blog post in video form.) There are a gazillion and a half vloggers on YouTube. For the record, we’ve had more success connecting with people over on Facebook than on YouTube. I think that’s because the videos we create appeal to parents, and parents understand Facebook. That being said, we’ve attended YouTube creator conferences where fans can meet their favorite video stars. George Clooney could walk through the convention center and go unnoticed . . . but PewDiePie? He’d need security to keep the hordes of fans away.

The Basics:
Think of YouTube like Netflix. Netflix has amazing, family-friendly content, but it also has Narcos. You wouldn’t let your kids surf around Netflix solo, and you shouldn’t let them watch YouTube unchecked. That being said, YouTube is overloaded with creative, inspiring content. Chances are you’ll find a channel/personality you love.

You can watch and search YouTube without an account, but to leave comments and “like,” you need an account. You get the most out of YouTube when you can join in a conversation in the comments section of a video. You’ll hear your kids’ favorite YouTubers asking people to “give the video a thumbs-up” or to “like” the video. That helps the video to be seen by a larger audience. When your child “likes” a video, you’ll be able to see that on their page in a “Liked Videos” playlist. A playlist is a collection of videos on a YouTube channel that will play in order, one after the other. You can make a playlist of your favorite cat videos, hit play once, and have hours of fun for the whole family.

Like or “thumbs up”

Video creators ask for subscribers, but it’s not like the subscriptions from the 80s. Remember when you subscribed to Columbia House Records (7 CASSETTES FOR ONE PENNY!!), and then years later a collection agency came after you because you never got the bill and therefore never paid, and now they want $100? If they need it that badly, I’d say make the trip to Finland and take out a loan from Sambla. On YouTube, subscribing is harmless. You hit the red button (it’s free) and you can choose to receive notifications, usually via email, when the creator uploads a video.

Subscribe button

There are YouTube creators with millions and millions of subscribers. The goal is to get those millions of subscribers to watch every video. It’s hard. Quite honestly, it’s the reason some (not all) YouTubers go over the top with insane behavior. It gets views. Have a look here at the most subscribed to YouTube channels in 2018.
The channels you’ve subscribed to will be listed on the left in your subscription box, and there is a notification when they have a new video you haven’t seen.

When you watch the videos, check the comments. The beauty of YouTube is the conversation and community that can be created. I LOVE the community on our YouTube channel. Check out the comments on the channels your kids follow. Are the conversations something you’d want your kids to be a part of in real life? This is where the term “troll” comes in. There are trolls in every part of life, but they can thrive in the anonymity of YouTube. There could be a recorded video of Jesus’s sermon on the Mount, and trolls would find a way to say something appalling. Also, look to see if the creator is answering any of the comments. The good ones make an effort to reply to comments at least for the first hour or two after posting.

YouTube suggests and recommends videos for you. After my daughter has been on my computer, every recommended video is a slime tutorial. YouTube is pretty brilliant on this front. If you liked our videos, for example, they’d suggest another parody video or another crazy family you may also like. The goal is to keep you on YouTube longer. This is another way you can tell what your children have been watching — check out what YouTube is recommending.

Successful YouTubers earn millions of dollars. Yeah, those ads you watch before the videos play? YouTube earns ad revenue and shares that with the video creator. Anyone can start a YouTube channel, but it takes a lot of work to grow an audience and earn a significant amount of money. (And no, we aren’t among the people who earn millions.) You can roll your eyes about people posting videos about unboxing toys and making Oprah-level money, but it’s a way to earn a living. I do think YouTube needs to provide some guidance for these teenagers who are now rich and “YouTube Famous”, but that’s a different blog post.

YouTube changed our lives, and it can change yours. We posted a little video in December 2013, acting like fools in our Christmas Jammies. We didn’t know you were supposed to get subscribers or that you could make money there. But somehow that silly video got millions of views, and it led to the hot mess you get to see here. YouTube is weird and wonderful, and there are channels for every possible interest. I call it The University of YouTube. You can learn to do or understand nearly anything on YouTube: How to use your fancy new camera; how to take full advantage of all the features of your computer or cell phone; how to grow orchids. There are even piano lessons on YouTube!

Here are some of the channels our family loves. When our kids are watching them, we can trust that we can take a shower or make dinner without having to worry about them joining an online gang.
This is by no means a complete list. Just the ones our family visits most frequently. I would love to know your favorites, too. Leave them in the comments. My kids actually love singing along to KLS- Songs For Kids, it’s amazing!

For the Younger Kids:
Mooseclumps:  This is a new channel and the brainchild of Chase Holfelder (his music channel is one of Dad’s favorites, linked below). Chase and his best friend are songwriters with kids, so this channel is a natural step. Side note: He helps us with audio mixing on some of our music videos. He’s insanely talented.

StoryBots:  Storybots is from the makers of JibJab. It’s also an awesome show on Netflix. Side note: JibJab was created by Evan and Gregg Spiridellis. Gregg reached out to us about a week after Christmas Jammies went viral and said, “When the dust settles, let me talk you through how to turn this into a business.” He’s become a friend and mentor.
For Everyone:

Muffalo Potato: We’ve had the chance to meet John and his sweet family. He creates your favorite characters just using letters and numbers. It’s so cool. This is one of Lola’s absolute favorites.

For slightly older kids and the entire family: 

What’s Inside? This is a YouTube channel where a father-son team, Dan and Lincoln, just cut stuff open to find out . . . what’s inside. It started as Lincoln’s science project to discover what was inside tennis balls, golf balls, etc. We’ve met Dan, Lincoln and their entire family. These are the type of people you want your kids to be around. They are kind and gracious. You can feel safe with your kids watching their channel.

The Eh Bee Family:  Your kids probably already follow this hilarious family, so feel good about it! The Bee family members don’t share their names publicly, so they are known as Papa Bee, Mama Bee, Miss Monkey and Mr. Monkey. They create funny challenges, music covers, and silly skits. We’ve met this family, and they are as lovely as they appear on your computer screen. We keep in touch over text message, and they’ve been so helpful to us as we try to grow our YouTube channel. Their children are well-mannered and respectful. These people are doing it right!

Bored Shorts: This is the very first YouTube channel we subscribed to, once I figured out what that meant, and our whole family loves it. Adults act out scenes by lip syncing all the amazing nonsense coming out of the mouths of their children. It’s easier to watch than it is to describe. Just watch it.

LaGuardia Cross:  Though we’ve never met La Guardia in person, we’re email friends. He’s amazing. I don’t think enough dads get the credit they deserve. La Guardia creates hilarious videos with his two precious girls about being a father. You can tell how much work and love he puts into these.

EvanTube:  Our kids love this channel. No personal connection here, but of the videos I’ve watched on their channel, I consider them safe. Evan is a kid, and he’ll inspire your own children to experiment with toys, slime, and so much else.

Dude Perfect:  We’ve never met these guys, but I think I want to make it a goal to be their friends. Their channel is sports + comedy + insane trick shots.

Collins Key:  On this channel, two brothers create challenges and other videos your kids will adore. We met Collins Key last summer at a creator conference. Lola is obsessed with magic (if you watch our Instagram Stories you’ll see almost nightly magic shows), and he got his start as a magician on America’s Got Talent. He could not have been more kind and lovely with her. He gave her great advice, and I think I actually heard her brain explode when she met him.

Lola meeting Collins Key

Kim’s favorites: Here’s a list of channels I follow. These are still family-friendly, but perhaps a little more mom-focused (read: no slime tutorials).
The Design Network:  The Design Network is an app and shopping experience you can find online, but it’s also a YouTube channel. I love the shows here. In my next life I’ll be an interior designer, so this is my training.
MyLifeSuckers:   Deva and I met a few years ago at a blogger event. She’s hilarious and hard-working. All those things you think as a mom? Yeah, she makes parodies and skits about them.
WhatsUpMoms:  I met Elle at a blogger event several years ago. She’s creative and smart, and this channel is all about things you can make, eat, and do as a family.

Penn’s favorites: The dad in our house is mostly on ESPN when he has free time. When he does wander to YouTube, here are his favorites.
Funny or Die:   This isn’t a channel aimed at kids. It’s HILARIOUS, but some of the humor and language is too grown-up for the little ones.
How to DAD:  We’ve never met this guy, but he provides a very funny, honest look at parenting. Totally safe for the kids to watch, too.
Bad Lip Reading: This channel takes pop culture favorites, like High School Musical and Star Wars, and recreates the dialogue through bad lip reading. It’s genius, and I’m a little upset we didn’t think of this concept first. This is a favorite for the whole family, but there are some moments when the language could be a bit much for you. I will admit, our kids have heard their fair share of foul language (by accident, mostly) in our house, so I’m fine with it. For example, in a song in a Star Wars song, Luke calls Yoda a “psycho weiner.” My kids have heard worse. Up to you.
Chase Holfelder:  This is a friend of ours, mentioned above for his kids’ channel. He creates the most. amazing. covers of popular songs but changes them from major to minor keys. He’s insanely talented. It will blow your mind. Seriously.

Josh DarnIt: We have met Josh and his sweet family. He was ginormously successful on Vine, and now he’s creating videos on YouTube. Our kids love watching his family. They are really kind, wonderful people.

The Holderness Family: (I would be lame if I didn’t take the opportunity to promote our own YouTube channels, right?) www.youtube.com/theholdernessfamily is where we create parodies and original music. www.youtube.com/holdernessfamilyvlogs is where we create silly challenges, Lola gets her slime fix, and we share other nonsense from our daily lives.
P.S. There are parental control options on YouTube. This article lays it out nicely. In my opinion, though, a lot slips past its filter. It’s worth making the changes, but don’t depend on this to be a 100% accurate filter of content.
There is also an entire app for YouTube Kids. It’s a little young for my kids, but a great place for the littles.

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