If your kids play Minecraft, they almost certainly spend a lot of time watching YouTube videos of other people playing the game, testing out mods, making song parodies, tutorials and a bunch of other user-created content.
While this can be a really fun and entertaining way to learn more about the game, one of the most common concerns amongst parents is the amount of time their kids are spending on this and whether it's a safe thing for them to be doing.
Why do kids enjoy Minecraft videos so much?
The Minecraft stuff on YouTube is vast and popular, and kids love being a part of it. At first glance it can be hard to understand the attraction of watching someone else play the game, but kids can get a lot of great ideas and inspiration from seeing what others have created.
They also enjoy the play-by-play aspect, so it's something akin to a spectator sport I guess. Keeping up with a YouTube channel is like watching a favourite TV show, and these videos are discussed at length between friends and at school. A lot of the game commentators are very personable and entertaining too, with some becoming genuine celebrities with dedicated fans.
So what's the problem?
The trouble is that there's no way to know upfront whether the videos they want to watch are suitable for kids. There's no rating system in YouTube and a whole lot of content that just isn't appropriate for them, including many Minecraft-related videos. Because Minecraft is not just a game for kids, it's played and enjoyed by an enormous number of teens and adults. The content created by them can contain violence, coarse language and other behaviour at a level that most parents would consider to be inappropriate for a younger audience, and yet it's all lumped together on YouTube.
Another huge problem with YouTube is the comments section. There are no filters for language, and many of them are at best grammatically poor and at worst incredibly mean or abusive. To be sure there are a lot of funny and supportive messages too, but in general it's not the kind of place where you want your kids spending their time.
There are also no restrictions to stop kids clicking on the videos in the very tempting 'related content' sidebar. While they might start out watching a benign video about Minecraft, clicking one related video after another can quickly send them down a rabbit hole that leads far from where they started.
Did you know that YouTube videos can earn money for their creators? Those ads that you skip over at the beginning are huge money earners for popular contributors, and some Minecraft YouTubers are now also branching out into media sponsorship deals such as product placements and paid endorsements. So there's a lot of incentive for people to incorporate advertising into their videos, and kids are a captive audience for it.
What can you do?
Watch them yourself
The reality is that there really aren't any shortcuts to finding safe stuff for your kids to watch. At the moment the only sure way to know if a YouTube video or channel is okay for your kids is to check it out yourself, or get the recommendation of another parent who has. And nothing beats supervision when it comes to keeping kids from straying off course into YouTube territory you never intended for them to venture into.
Remember: popular doesn't mean appropriate
It's really important to be aware of the fact that just because a YouTube channel is popular amongst kids doesn't mean that it's suitable for them to watch. Channels such as skydoesminecraft, Team Crafted and Yogscast have millions of subscribers, many of whom are kids, but they contain content and language that many parents wouldn't be okay with. Also keep in mind that a player that produces family friendly single player videos may at times play on multiplayer servers with players who do not.
Turn the sound off
One workaround that a lot of parents use is to let their kids watch popular videos with the sound turned off, to avoid the risk of bad language. This works reasonably well, although watch out for multiplayer games which record the text in chat messages.
Are there any family-friendly YouTube channels?
There are hundreds of channels (and ten times as many videos), and there's no way you can watch them all. So when I set out to research which ones were okay for my kids to watch, I scoured the user forums to find a good place to start. What I found was a bunch of names that tended to come up regularly in discussions about kid-friendly content:
This Minecraft-playing dad is the most frequently recommended kid-friendly channel, especially his tutorial series called How To Survive & Thrive and his gameplay videos of his family on Punchwood Island.
Hailing from England, Stampy uploads a daily video of himself playing Minecraft Xbox 360 edition. He's super nice and kids really seem to love him.
He's an expert in redstone wiring and map creation.
She's great! A gamer who also loves crafts and cooking, Cupquake is most known for her series called Minecraft Oasis.
Another guy who kids tend to think is hilarious.
Plus these ones:
So if you'd like your kids to be able to enjoy Minecraft on YouTube without the risk of exposure to inappropriate content, these seem like a good place to start. Check a few of the videos for yourself and watch them alongside your kids.