3 minute read

How to Set Up YouTube Strict Search

Last Updated: October 23, 2020

Chris McKenna
Chris McKenna

Chris McKenna is a guy with never-ending energy when it comes to fighting for the safety and protection of children. He is the founder of Protect Young Eyes, a leading digital safety organization. Chris practices his internet safety tips on his four amazing children and is regularly featured on news, radio, podcasts, and most recently on Capitol Hill for his research. His 2019 US Senate Judiciary Committee testimony was the catalyst for draft legislation that could radically change online child protection laws. With expertise in social media usage, parental controls, and pornography use in young people, Chris is highly sought after as a speaker at schools and churches. Since 2016, Chris has worked with Covenant Eyes creating educational resources to help individuals and families overcome porn. Other loves include running, spreadsheets, and candy.

How do parents and caring adults control YouTube? This is a very popular question since according to recent usage data, YouTube is the most popular digital destination for teens, beating out both Instagram and Snapchat.

Did you know there are over 71,000 videos watched on YouTube every second with over 300 hours of video uploaded every minute? The statistics are mind-numbing. In addition to hilarious cat videos, YouTube is also home to inappropriate content, including hardcore pornography.

And, because YouTube is one of the most popular destinations for kids and teens, via their website or the app, it’s important for parents and caring adults to understand its parental controls.

In this video, we’re going to show you how to protect your YouTube Searches with YouTube Strict Search, also referred to as Restricted Mode.

Setting Up YouTube’s Restricted Mode on a Laptop or Desktop Computer:

If you’re using a laptop or desktop computer, you are accessing YouTube.com through a browser like Chrome, Firefox, or Safari. Unfortunately, as of October 2017, YouTube changed their laptop and desktop web interface, which removed the ability to lock restricted mode on browsers.

This is a huge step backward for parents, who in the past, relied heavily on the lock feature to prevent most pornographic content. YouTube is calling this October update their “fresh look.” But, there is a workaround for this change.

  1. Go to YouTube.com and log in with your Google account (which is also your Gmail account)
  2. Click on your profile picture in the upper, right corner. There, the bottom two options should be “Restricted Mode” off/on or “Restore Old YouTube.”
  3. Click “Restore Old YouTube.”
  4. Once you’ve “Restored Old YouTube,” you’ll notice the “old” options at the bottom. To turn “Restricted Mode” on, click the arrow and choose “on.”
  5. You will then see a blue hyperlink with the words “Lock Restricted Mode on this Browser.” If you don’t use the lock setting, and just choose “Restricted Mode-On,” anyone will be able to turn off “Restricted Mode”. But, if you click “Lock Restricted Mode on This Browser,” you can lock these settings with your Google username and password to ensure nobody else can turn it off.
  6. Make sure that you do not click “Remember Password” at any time for your Gmail signin information, as this could allow anyone to change your “lock” settings.
  7. Click “Save.” You’ve now locked Restricted Mode on one browser.
  8. Repeat this process for all browsers (Safari, Chrome, Firefox, etc.) on the laptop or desktop.

Setting Up YouTube’s Restricted Mode on a Mobile Device:

Unfortunately, YouTube’s parental controls on a smartphone, like an iPhone or Android, are completely different than on desktop computers and laptops.

For iOS devices (iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad):

  1. Open the YouTube app. If you’re using the app without being signed in, in the upper right corner, you’ll see a gray and white generic profile image. If you’re signed in, click your name.
  2. Click the image and then click “Settings,” which looks like a gear.
  3. Then select “Restricted Mode Filtering.” Your options are “Don’t filter” and “Strict.” You’ll want to select “Strict.”
  4. Unfortunately, there’s no way to lock these settings on the smartphone version of the app. Therefore, anyone can simply toggle the Restricted Mode off if they know where to find the toggle. For this reason, especially with young internet users, we recommend deleting the YouTube app. Have kids either use the YouTube Kids app or access YouTube.com through a filtered and monitored browser, like Covenant Eyes, which can monitor the YouTube videos are being watched. That way, you will have a history of the videos they are clicking on.

For Android devices: 

  1. Open the YouTube app and click on the profile picture circle in the upper right corner.
  2. Select “Settings.”
  3. Then select “General,” and scroll down to “Restricted Mode,” which you will toggle to the right to make it blue.
  4. You can then click on the back arrow in the upper left-hand corner to exit Settings and return to the main menu. The settings you choose will save automatically.
  5. But just like with Apple’s iOS devices, there’s no way to lock these restricted mode settings, so we recommend a monitoring solution like Covenant Eyes to help parents stay on top of YouTube activity.
  • Comments on: How to Set Up YouTube Strict Search
    1. kim

      I restricted YouTube as suggested here, but when I did a test to see if it would pull things up, several inappropriate videos were pulled up with the search “sex”. Are the restrictions just not that restricted? I’d like for my son to be able to do some YouTube searches, but the temptation for inappropriate searches would be too great if it is not truly restricted. Any other suggestions would be so appreciated.

      • Annelise Hoshal

        Hello Kim,

        Thank you for contacting us! The YouTube restricted mode is great, but it is by YouTube’s standard of what is inappropriate and what is not. YouTube does have a YouTube Kids app available for Android and Apple Mobile devices, so that could be a possible solution for the mobile devices. You could even go as far as blocking YouTube on the computer and only allow them to access YouTube through the YouTube Kids app on their mobile devices.

        I also agree that the temptation to look up inappropriate videos, if he’s not restricted, would be too great, but that’s where the idea of Accountability comes in to play. Accountability encourages us to make better choices online even with us completely aware that an inappropriate search won’t be restricted. I’m not sure how old your son is, but especially with children you want to start training them to make good choices about their online activity now, because one day they might have access to a device that doesn’t have Covenant Eyes on it. Filtering is great as a safety net, but to address the real issue of temptation online Accountability is the best long term solution. It shapes how kids approach the Internet and establishes good habits.

        If you have any further questions feel free to contact our Customer Service at 877.479.1119.

        Best regards,

    2. Chris, My question concerning YouTube’s “Restricted Mode” is, doesn’t a person need to be signed on to their Youtube account in order for the restricted mode to work? In other words, if I wanted to bypass “Restricted Mode” all I would need to do is go to Youtube but not sign in? Please let me know. Thanks for any help you can provide.

      Jim Gravitt

      • Chris McKenna

        Hi, Jim – you can select Restricted Mode without being signed in, but you can’t lock it on a browser unless you are signed in. What I’m describing is for laptops only. There’s no way to force Restricted Mode on mobile devices. In addition to the video you saw on this post, here’s another post that explains how it works for different platforms: http://protectyoungeyes.com/youtube-restricted-mode-parental-controls/

        Peace, Chris

    3. Christine

      Does Covenant Eyes have anything in place to help me manage my son’s ability to disable the Restricted Mode in YouTube on his iPod? As it stands, there is no password required to enable or disable the YouTube Restricted Mode on the ipod or ipad.

      • Chris McKenna

        Hi, Christine – if you are a CE member and also use our filter, our brand new App will force Restricted Mode on his iPod Touch and his iPad. This is brand new technology that is only available as of around 2 weeks ago, but it works great.

        Best, Chris

    4. Ben

      Is there any way to turn restricted mode off? YouTube’s “restriction” flags are thrown onto a great majority of innocuous content on their site (how-tos, home remodeling, appliance repair, etc…) I can understand why you’d like to force everyone to have restricted access to YouTube, but I’d rather not be locked out of most of my subscribed content – opting instead for straight up accountability over FORCING “restricted mode”. This is happening now on all browsers and all devices, regardless of the settings I repeatedly try to set. Am I missing something? I’m not seeing anything on my admin dashboard referring to YouTube restricted mode.

      • Chris McKenna

        Hi, Ben – are you using an iOS device? The current release of the CE App does force YouTube Restricted Mode. We’ve received plenty of feedback that our members would like some sort of “toggle” to have this as an option and not an app requirement. Thank you for your note, and please reply to let me know if you are in fact referring to iOS. Thank you.


      • James

        Hello Chris, I am having the same issues as Ben and yes it is on an iSO device. Videos I’m subscribed to are now not showing up since installing it.

        Is there away for our YouTube view to go on our accountability report so we can discuss it with our accountability partners while having the restriction mode toggled off?

      • Chris McKenna

        Hi, James – if you’re referring to our iOS app, then for now, there is no way to toggle the “Restricted Mode” off for YouTube. But, we’re hearing enough from our customers on this issue, that we have this specific item being looked at right now.


    5. Ross

      This is a big issue for me and doesn’t seem to have been addressed yet. Language flagged videos are not allowed in restricted mode. Accountability report and history would be great here, this is pretty much a deal breaker if it doesn’t get sorted quickly.

      • Chris McKenna

        Hi, Ross – are you referring to something in how Covenant Eyes monitors YouTube, or are you commenting on YouTube’s own definitions of what is filtered from Restricted Mode? I couldn’t tell.


    6. Ali

      Hi, from reading the comments I’m picking up that YouTube videos do not show up in the accountability report? Is that correct?

      • Chris McKenna

        Hi, Ali – it depends on the platform (mobile vs. desktop) and how the videos are being watched on mobile devices (in the CE browser app on iOS or in the YouTube app on iOS or Android). If YouTube videos are being watched in the YouTube app, then they are not individually reported in the Accountability Report.


      • Andre

        Hey team,

        I’m seeing several requests for a restricted mode toggle, but so far all the discussion here has been iOS, mine is locked on restricted mode in the Android YouTube app. Can’t even stream some music selections while I work, comments sections are blocked – quite a few surprising things are denied, while several things still get through that should not. The YouTube restricted mode was not designed with the same purpose as covenant eyes, and is a very difficult thing to get completely right.

        Honestly, I don’t want any filtering whatsoever, only the accountability; it is why I signed up, and if filtering is going to be forced without question I will have to do without the program all together, can call my partner for weekly check ins. I’d like to wait and see if a toggle is developed, but seeing as the previous conversation was from April, I don’t t know how long I plan to wait…

      • Chris McKenna

        Hi, Andre – it sounds like you have filtering on your plan, which is what is forcing the YouTube restricted mode. Can you please call customer service to figure that out? That should help. 877-499-1119


    7. Dom


      I’d like the option to turn off restricted mode on youtube on my browser and on the app. The issue i’m having right now is that I’m an adult, and i choose to use Covenant Eyes for filtering and EXTRA accountability. I already have a solid accountability support system, so i dont need the app to babysit me.

      As of right now, i dont have access to a great deal of my subscribed content because of language or violence (I watch a lot of gamers). This is TREMENDOUSLY irritating. That along with my inability to post comments on youtube is causing me to lose my patience with this filtering system.

      Please get this figured out. It has been since last year that this issue was brought up, and you still have done nothing about it. Please take care of this already.

      • Chris McKenna

        Hi, a fix for this is literally in process right now. Coming very soon. Thank you for your patience.

    8. Jennifer

      Chris McKenna’s comment of “coming very soon” was written mid-August. Has this toggle been added? I have an older high schooler I’d like to allow access to YouTube since restricted mode is too restricted but I’d like to have the accountability report so I can see if she’s making good choices. I don’t have CE yet, but am considering it to determine if it will fit what I need. She has a school-provided Chromebook which I don’t feel I have the ability to install CE. However, I can restrict YouTube on Circle on her Chromebook, but allow it on her iPad and iPhone utilizing CE… but preferably if YouTube restricted can be disabled to allow her access there.

    9. Tim

      Hi, is there any fix to this yet? As an adult, I too have an issue with YouTube restricted mode and I’d like to turn it off. Please help :(

      • Moriah Dufrin

        Hi Tim!

        I am sorry to hear that you are having issues with YouTube restricted mode. For technical issues, I would encourage you to contact our amazing customer service team!

        Toll-free in the US: 877.479.1119
        Outside the U.S.: 989.720.8000


    10. R

      Overall, I was originally happy with CE – it seemed to be doing the job. I was notified of screenshots that needed to be reviewed and explicit porn sites were blocked.
      Then something happened. My husband bypasses your filter daily with “soft porn” YouTube videos – never a screenshot. He’s not using any special browsers and I can see the app “eye” in the corner. I’m now questioning whether or not it’s worth the price (and heartache) since it’s not capturing any screenshots of this activity. It also bypasses filters when it’s cast onto a tv- screencast – Vizio TVs don’t have filtering parental control for apps. Is there something that can be done or looked at to resolve this? It’s up to him to make choices but making it easy to bypass doesn’t help. Thank you.

    11. I am going to China (Shanghai, Sichuan, Yunnan provinces) for the month of July. I have a Windows laptop and an iPhone I want connections on, and I really only want to be able to access Gmail and some mobile apps like Facebook and Snapchat. I would like the cheapest one since it’s only for a month, so I was thinking of PureVPN. What’s your input? (I’m totally clueless when it comes to this stuff

      • Keith Rose

        Hi Harold! Thanks for your question. Unfortunately, we’re not compatible with VPN apps on the iPhone (since our app uses this function already). Not sure what to recommend for VPNs on other platforms – maybe you can find a one-month free trial somewhere! For more technical details or questions about compatibility with particular apps, please contact our support team at support@covenanteyes.com or 1.989.720.000!



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