Parents horrified after suicide messages found hidden in YouTube Kids videos
"I think our kids are facing a whole new world with social media and Internet access. It's changing the way they're growing, and it's changing the way they're developing. I think videos like this put them at risk."
Parents have been left horrified after some cartoons allegedly uploaded on YouTube Kids were found edited with clips encouraging kids to harm themselves. Understandably, the question they are now asking is, “Is YouTube safe for my child?”
It is not known who exactly uploaded the disturbing videos. In one clip found on a children’s video game, a man suddenly appears on the screen and gives kids instructions on how to commit suicide.
“Remember, kids. Sideways for attention. Longways for results,” he says, holding what looks like an imaginary blade to the inside of his arm.
“Is YouTube safe for my child?” Parents worried after hidden suicide messages exposed
Dr Free Hess, a paediatrician and mum in the US, reported the video to YouTube and got the platform to take it down. She also wrote about it on her blog, PediMom.
The clip was apparently found spliced into several videos of the popular Nintendo game Splatoon on YouTube and YouTube Kids.
Dr Hess, who regularly blogs on child cyber safety, writes, “Exposure to videos, photos, and other self-harm and suicidal promoting content is a huge problem that our children are facing today.”
“We have to start doing something NOW and we should start by educating ourselves, educating our children, and speaking up when we see something that is dangerous for our children.”
She also alerts parents to the fact that the edited Splatoon videos are not the only dark and potentially dangerous content on social media platforms, especially on YouTube Kids. She has also found videos of children attempting suicide and other disturbing content on the app.
YouTube responds to disturbing content
Concerned about the kind of content our kids are getting exposed to, we reached out to YouTube Kids.
Tu Nguyen, a spokesman for YouTube Kids, said in a written statement to theAsianparent, “We work to make the videos in YouTube Kids as family-friendly as possible and take feedback very seriously.”
“We appreciate people drawing problematic content to our attention, and make it possible for anyone to flag a video. Flagged videos are manually reviewed 24/7 and any videos that don’t belong in the app are removed.”
“We’ve also been investing in new controls for parents including the ability to hand pick videos and channels in the app. We are making constant improvements to our systems and recognize there’s more work to do.”
As a reminder, she also advises, “Users of the YouTube Kids app can also decide to have ‘Search on or Search off’. When you turn search on, your child can access millions more YouTube Kids videos beyond the home screen. This allows them to search for new content on their own. When you turn search off you restrict your child’s experience to a more limited set of videos.”
How does suicide content affect young minds?
Some children may just ignore the content of the video and move on, but others may get nightmares or even get strangely drawn to it.
On 13 Feb 2019, mummy Meridy Leeper shared a grim picture on what goes on in a 7-year-old’s head after watching disturbing content online.
She wrote on Facebook, “Kids youtube, roblox, fortnight… no matter how much you think you are monitoring your child.. notifications to what your child is watching. It doesn’t matter.”
“My 7-year-old child was taught how to attempt suicide by kids youtube and these games. She has expressed that she doesn’t feel neglected or unloved. Instead, she was constantly told to ‘go kill yourself’ by other gamers, by kids youtube. Shown HOW to.”
The little child suffered from a severe anxiety attack, and her mum thought she had got over it until she saw a picture the girl had drawn in school.
The worried mum shares, “I NEVER thought I would find myself helping my SEVEN-YEAR-OLD CHILD through an anxiety attack. PLEASE, keep your children away from these things.”
“I’m just so glad my child was able to express her feelings before she actually tried to harm herself. I never thought something as ‘innocent’ as kids youtube would have these subliminal messages.”
“Again, I’m only sharing our experience in the hopes to prevent another child from going through this.”
Safety tips for parents on how to prevent self-harm in kids
In 2017, online media reported a very dangerous trend that was prevalent among teens – the Blue Whale challenge.
The Blue Whale game allegedly assigned players tasks to complete over 50 days. These tasks start off tame with challenges like watching horror shows, but progress to dangerous orders such as self-harming.
At the highest and final level of the game, the child will be instructed to commit suicide.
Again, in 2018, reports emerged that a 16-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl had died in Barbosa, Colombia, after playing the Momo suicide challenge. They had played the game, which “invited young people to hurt themselves”, on WhatsApp.
Viral content about self-harm or suicide is worrying. As parents, we want to make sure that our children are not negatively influenced by social media. Here are some safety tips:
1. Know the warning signs
Watch out for these signs of distress and emotional turmoil:
- Displaying out-of-character behaviour
- Injuries that are unexplained
- Sudden changes in appearance, interests or habits
- Temperamental changes
- Rebellious/aggressive behaviour
- Extended absence/deliberate social withdrawal
- Struggling to pay attention/increased lethargy
- Sending/posting moody or morbid messages (including expressions of death)
2. Empathise with your child
If you notice that your child is behaving differently, start off by asking these questions, “I noticed that you…. Is there anything you would like to share?” or “Is there something troubling you?”
Be willing to listen. Take your child’s comments seriously. Refrain from trivialising their thoughts or telling them that they should not feel negative about something.
Empathise with your child and show that you are genuinely trying to understand what’s going on in their minds. Don’t judge her or her thoughts. Be caring and kind.
3. Be aware of what your child is watching and reading
The best way to get your child to share what she has seen or read is to be more of a friend, and less of a parent. She should know that you mean only well for her, and you are ready to support her all the way.
Try to have open discussions with your children about movies, videos and news, in a non-judgemental way. You can talk about which characters she liked or disliked, and why she felt that way.
It might also help to friend your teen on Facebook, or follow them on Instagram, just to know the kind of posts they are liking and sharing.
4. Encourage a healthy lifestyle and a wide range of coping strategies
Encourage your child to develop a sleeping routine to help them get a good night’s sleep. Let her know that there are many ways to cope with stress, such as confiding in others, sports, art, and practising relaxation and deep breathing.
Proper nutrition can also help with sleep, general health and well being. A well-balanced diet helps the body and brain to function well.
5. Encourage your child to be a positive influence
Teach your child to distinguish between real and fake news, and discourage her from forwarding unverified messages.
Encourage your child to be a voice of hope and a pillar of support for her peers instead.
If you need to reach out for help, do call these friendly helplines in Singapore:
- South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) Mental Health Line: 011 234 4837/ 011 234 8182
- Cipla 24hr Mental Health Helpline: 0800 456 789
- Befrienders South Africa (in English and Afrikaans): 0027 51 444 5691
- Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0800 567 567
- Destiny Helpline for Youth & Students: 0800 41 42 43
- Adcock Ingram Depression and Anxiety Helpline: 0800 70 80 90