As parents embarking on this age of advanced technology with our kids, we are constantly forced to adapt to our kids’ consumption of internet media, and it’s not an easy task.
We limit screen time (or try to?). We set parental controls, and inspect our kids’ internet-equipped gadgets. We try to stay updated on the latest trends in new social media apps that kids are interested in- all an attempt to protect our kids from the darker side of the internet.
We do what we can, but the reality is that as long as the internet exists, there are awful people that exploit their media reach with all sorts of horrible intentions.
Granted, you’ve always known that; who hasn’t found themselves down the rabbit hole & into the weird side of YouTube? But the latest trend is far more sinister, because of both it’s content & it’s intended audience.
The latest disturbing trend: YouTube videos that contain specific instructions on how to commit suicide or acts of school violence- and they are specifically geared towards children.
And before you think, “Sure, if you let your kid on YouTube, what do you expect?” But the scarier reality is that some of these videos were not found on YouTube, but YouTube Kids– a kid-friendly version of the app that is designed for an audience of 8-and-under.
This concerning revelation came to public light when pediatrician Dr. Free Hess was browsing a children’s video on YouTube. All appeared well… until the middle of the video cut into footage containing detailed instructions on how to slit one’s wrists.
No, SERIOUSLY- suicide instructions buried within an otherwise harmless-looking kids’ YouTube clip.
The subject of the clip is a popular YouTuber named George Miller, aka “Filthy Funk”, whose channel boasts over 6 million followers. He demonstrates the motions of how to slit a wrist as he tells his youthful audience:
“Remember kids, sideways for attention, longways for results. End it.”
Although the video has been removed due to being flagged (obviously!) for its harmful material, the even scarier issue is that for every video that is flagged for removal, a half-dozen more pop up to seemingly take its place.
Dr. Hess was so appalled that she took to her blog, PediMom, to post a video in order to spread the word about this alarmingly dark corner of YouTube.
In her post, Dr. Hess explains that after seeing the initial video clip, she began digging further into YouTube, and was horrified by the results.
These videos are quite common, apparently, and Dr. Hess found:
a horrifying world where people create cartoons glorifying dangerous topics and scenarios such self-harm, suicide, sexual exploitation, trafficking, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and gun violence which includes a simulated school shooting.
It’s important to keep in mind that these scenes are not independent videos that can be found under these subject headings, but rather short clips that are sneakily inserted into videos for children.
The news has been replete as of late with tragic tales of children committing suicide.
ANY person choosing to end their life is heartbreaking, but we’re talking about recent news stories of children as young as eight years old ending their lives. Preventing child suicide is daunting enough without YouTube allowing videos that not only encourage this trend, but instruct kids on how to actually do it.
Warning: We are sharing two such videos below. Do not watch with your children or with those that might be triggered by words and images of suicide and school shootings.
An example of a video that depicts suicide by hanging is featured below. It’s interesting to note that some of the recent child suicide stories reported in the press have been children that have ended their lives via hanging. While I’m not implying that the victims in these cases watched these videos, think about how impressionable young kids are with what they watch- and how impulsive they can occasionally be. It’s chilling.
And as Dr. Free pointed out on her blog, it’s not just suicide videos that we’re talking about.
With recent school shootings and frequent threats of school violence being discussed in the media, videos that try to egg juveniles into these acts by making them appear almost appealing or easy are beyond horrifying.
How about Minecraft, a popular kid’s building game? Here’s a video with a twist; the childish block-characters engage in a shooting at “Monster High”.
When interviewed by CBS News, Dr. Free Hess admitted that although she’s been lobbying for videos of this nature to be permanently deleted, her efforts seem to be the tip of this disturbing iceberg.
She admits that despite her and several other concerned parents flagged numerous videos of this nature, more seem to crop up:
“I had to stop, but I could have kept going,” Hess said. “Once you start looking into it, things get darker and weirder. I don’t understand how it’s not getting caught.”
YouTube has addressed some of the concern: an anonymous spokesperson for YouTube explained to CBS News that
Every quarter we remove millions of videos and channels that violate our policies and we remove the majority of these videos before they have any views. We are always working to improve our systems and to remove violative content more quickly.
And that’s a good start- but it’s not enough. While app developers need to take responsibility for the content on their apps, we as parents need to educate both ourselves and our kids against this pervasive threat.
You can opt to ban media apps completely, but that’s not a realistic choice for some families. You can also educate your children on the possibility of clips like these appearing in otherwise innocuous videos.
But the most important piece of advice: keep the channels of communication open between you and your children regarding what they are doing & viewing on the Internet.