Parents may worry about YouTube's age-inappropriate content, but mostly what kids love to watch is fine (if a little weird).
We all know that on YouTube kids can encounter a lot of age-inappropriate stuff, including ads, salty language, and even mature sex and violence. But when you look at what kids are actively seeking out, a lot of it is just kind of, well, weird. When kids are guided by their interests, curiosity, and funny bones, they tend to be rewarded with interesting, creative, humorous results. It's too bad that they're exposed to mature content along the way. But that's where you can step in to help them separate the good stuff from the not-so-great.
So, what's on kids' YouTube lists? "Unboxing" videos (where people open products), "challenges" (such as trying hot peppers), "morning routines" (which show how YouTubers get ready for the day), and silly skits. These and other unusual things -- and the people behind them -- are YouTube phenomena. While kids also like to check out the latest eyebrow-raising music videos by Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Justin Bieber, it's the unscripted, unpolished, authentic content that they really love.
This guide may not bring you any closer to understanding the appeal of watching, say, someone open a Kinder Surprise Egg (one of the most popular kinds of videos on YouTube), but it may give you some fodder for conversation. And in a world where kids can be entertained at the touch of a button, that's sometimes the best way to get a taste of their world.
Let's Plays By far, the most popular gaming videos on YouTube are "Let's Plays" -- basically, live narration by gamers while they're playing games. Gaming videos got so popular, YouTube split them off into their own section called YouTube Gaming. Age-inappropriate content and language are an issue on all of these:
PewDiePie. This Swedish YouTube star does real-time game commentary and other videos in a signature silly style. He has parlayed his fame into an app, a book, and a Web series.
Rooster Teeth. In addition to Let's Play videos, this production team creates Web series, live-action shorts, and a news and entertainment podcast. Topics and language are not always age-appropriate.
Smosh Games. This is a team of gamers who create mostly game and entertainment-related videos, including Let's Plays, reviews, and skits. Language and content may not be age-appropriate.
Markiplier. Entertaining Let's Plays, reviews, skits, highlight reels, and more make Markiplier super popular.
Minecraft Thousands and thousands of Minecraft videos on Youtube -- including Minecraft Let's Plays,Minecraft tutorials, even Minecraft music videos -- can keep kids entertained for hours (as you've probably noticed). Many Minecraft YouTube videos are geared for older players, and they're filled with strong language, but there are plenty of age-appropriate channels, too. These are some of the most popular:
TheDiamondMinecart. The videos' quality across all genres (Let's Play, mod reviews, characters, and so on) has made it one of the most highly subscribed-to and most highly viewed channels on YouTube.
PopularMMOs. Although it's known for epic battles and massive explosions, PopularMMOs' host is a friendly, folksy guy named Pat, whose knowledge of and enthusiasm for the MMO game genre plus killer mods draw big audiences.
CaptainSparklez. Recently purchased by Disney-owned Maker Studios, CaptainSparklez is beloved as much for his intricate, atmospheric, and complex worlds as for his parody videos.
StampyLonghead. A British cartoon cat (voiced by Joseph Garrett from Portsmouth, England) hosts the lively videos on this lighthearted channel.
Unboxing Turns out, kids love watching people open stuff -- including toys, gadgets, and the Italian treat called Kinder Surprise Eggs. Unboxing has become so popular that a whole cottage industry of unboxing "fails" and spoofs (such as Weird Al unboxing his Grammy Award) has emerged. The main issue with these videos is that it's unclear whether companies pay YouTubers to unbox their products (some do, some don't).
FunToyzcollector. Kid-friendly videos of a person (you never see a face, just a well-manicured hand) opening and playing with Play-Doh, Disney Princess dolls, Polly Pockets, Peppa Pig, and lots more have made this channel one of the most popular and lucrative on YouTube.
EvanTube HD. Ten-year-old Evan's unboxing videos include Legos, Kinder Eggs, and lots of other toys. He also has other channels in which his family appears.
Surprise Eggs Unboxing Toys. In addition to unboxing videos of Kinder Eggs, this channel creates Play-Doh Claymations, stop-motion videos, and clips of bath balls dissolving in water. (You read that correctly.)
Lamarr Wilson. A former educator and technology consultant, Wilson uses his engaging personality to entertain families with taste tests, skits, and awkward questions. He's most famous for his unboxing videos of totally random stuff such as gummy worms, amiibos, and Loot Crates (mail-order collections of toys and games).
Challenges YouTube challenges have become a genre unto themselves. Some of them are risky, such as the duct-tape challenge and the cinnamon challenge. These YouTubers regularly film themselves taking some of the less-risky challenges (such as eating food while blindfolded).
Rosanna Pansino. This bubbly baker's YouTube show Nerdy Nummies (think: pizza cake) is so popular, Pansino got a cookbook deal out of it. She often attempts cooking-related challenges such as using someone else's arms to decorate a cake.
SevenSuperGirls. Billing themselves as the largest all-girl collaboration on YouTube, the ladies of SevenSuperGirls are actually unrelated YouTubers who share a channel and trade off posting. They love taking challenges, such as the Tin Can Challenge where they sample food from unmarked cans.
Shane Dawson. This YouTube veteran is famous for his colorful characters, outrageous songs, edgy videos, and funny first-person vlogs. He frequently appears on others' YouTube channels to take challenges (such as the one on Trying Mexican Candy with Miranda Sings, another popular YouTuber). Language and content can be an issue.
Joey Graceffa. A budding musician, actor, filmmaker, and gamer, Graceffa is also an active vlogger who loves taking challenges, including Tasting Weird Goldfish Flavors. Language and content can be an issue.
Makeup and Fashion The makeup and fashion category is bursting with talented, versatile hosts who make skits, explain their morning routines, and share advice. The downside with this category is that the videos can present impossibly idealized images of what a young girls' life should look like (complete with impeccably lighted bedrooms and perfectly matched bedding), and many of the videos push products (some of which are given to the vlogger for promotion). On the plus side, lots of these videos also offer DIY and crafting ideas and spoofs of their own content.
My Life as Eva. This California college student has become a full-fledged lifestyle guru, offering tips on everything from packing for a trip to rocking a fur jacket. She also models for Kohl's.
Niki and Gabi. Beautiful, smart, savvy identical twins Niki and Gabi make cool style seem effortless with their polished videos that include ideas for an easy "morning routine," DIY Halloween costumes, and photo ideas.
Rclbeauty101. Rachel Claire Levin is the 20-something brunette behind this channel that features insider beauty tips, lifestyle advice, funny skits, and more.
CutiePieMarzia. Kids know Italian beauty Marzia Bisognin as PewDiePie's gamer girlfriend, but she's a vlogger in her own right, specializing in makeup, "haul" videos (where she shows viewers what she's bought), cooking, and more.
Bethany Mota. A young YouTube pioneer, Mota vlogs on fashion, beauty, shopping, and DIY tips. She achieved mainstream fame and fortune by appearing on Dancing with the Stars and by creating a line of clothes for Aeropostale.
Funny Stuff What passes for funny on YouTube may not be your cup of tea, but somehow the folks below have hit upon formulas that draw millions of viewers. Language and content can be an issue on many of these channels.
NigaHiga. Higa loves creating parodies of movies, ads, and songs, and he has a strong bent for personal confession and articulate tirades on topical subjects.
Tobuscus. Actor, musician, gamer, and comedian Tobuscus (Toby Joe Turner) posts a hodgepodge of entertaining videos ranging from stop-motion video to original songs to Let's Plays.
Smosh. These 20-somethings perform silly skits, funny songs, and pranks. The comedy isn't necessarily highbrow (and they bleep swear words), but it's mostly harmless.
Good Mythical Morning. With their friendly banter, silly skits, and amusing challenges, the two male hosts of this show (Rhett and Link) entertain without being edgy.
The Fine Brothers. Brothers Benny and Rafi started with "React" videos (showing kids, teens, senior citizens, and other groups watching and commenting on YouTube videos). These videos are great tools for teaching kids to be critical of media. Many of the Web series and other videos produced by the Fine Brothers -- while funny and creative -- are not necessarily age-appropriate.