Why YouTube is Causing Young Kids to Go into Therapy: And Why Parents Need to Discover Alternatives to Even Youtube Kids
Ask most kids nowadays what their favorite TV show is and most will tell you their favorite YouTube channel. Kids aren’t watching TV like we did growing up, they are watching YouTube. Now I am not going to be an old fuddy-duddy and tell you how back in my day we swung from trees and didn’t have our head down staring at a screen. But what I am going to tell you is why I am talking about YouTube in my therapy practice way more often than I would like and why it is a conversation I need to have with all of you. I am also going to tell you why you need to discover other alternatives and why you need to discover it fast!
There are three main therapy issues that are coming up with YouTube with kids ten years old and younger:
#1. Kids are watching sexually explicit videos and acting them out on each other.
Would you let your young children walk down a seedy city street on their own? Probably not (I hope)! Unfortunately, YouTube is a virtual seedy street. Yes, there are great channels and informative videos, but along with that, there are some pretty scary and explicit videos out there. Some parents are naïve to how YouTube can impact their younger children.
Lots of younger children now have the YouTube app on their tablet or phone. Many parents are aware that there is actually a Kids YouTube with better parental controls, but we are now discovering that really disturbing things are getting through those kid-friendly filters as well.
Reports have come out that hidden videos are instructing kids to kill themselves. There have also been reports of sexual and violent content hidden in Youtube kid videos.
Let me give you some examples of what is flooding into my office these days. [ I have changed some identifying information to preserve confidentiality]:
Recently parents brought an eight-year-old boy to see me because he was found in his bedroom with his male best friend naked. His parents were horrified and they brought him into therapy right away. They said the boys were trying to touch each other’s private parts. I will spare you the graphic details, but they were doing sexually explicit things to each other that were way beyond normal curiosity. They wanted to know if maybe their son had been sexually abused.
As they told me this story, my mind went to that conclusion too. Where did these boys learn these sexually explicit behaviors? Now in the past, when I would talk to a child who had exhibited such behavior, I would typically discover some history of abuse. They would’ve learned that behavior from a perpetrator or from being exposed to sexually explicit materials while being groomed for abuse. But nowadays the conversation goes in a whole different direction.
The little boy told me, “I saw it on YouTube and I showed the video to my friend.” Gulp. No abuser. No perpetrator. Just an easily searchable word S-E-X brought up a plethora of distorted, ugly interpretations of the word sex for the kids to act out. Not pornography in the way we would view it, but to a young mind, sexually explicit enough!
I wish this was an isolated incident, but it’s not. Month after month more boys are flooding into my office. Young boys. Boys with sexual curiosity. Boys who have access to YouTube. Boys who are just learning how to spell three letter words. Boys who can spell sex. They are being introduced to sex in the most grotesque of ways, through nasty videos that offer a skewed view of lovemaking. YouTube is our new sex education. Yikes! How scary is that?
Do a simple experiment. Search the word sex on YouTube. This is what your kids will see. This will be their introduction to sex.
Now I know what you might be saying. “My kid wouldn’t look at that stuff!” or “I see what my kid is watching and he just likes watching gaming videos.” I have talked to many just like you in my office. I have also talked to kids just like yours. I wish they were saying the same thing, but they’re not.
They tell me they search for all sorts of disturbing things on YouTube. They tell me at sleepovers and on the playground kids huddle around devices and type in their unanswered taboo questions. Questions that would be better off answered by adults, not YouTube.
Even misspelled words and innocence searches can take kids to places they didn’t want to go. It can show them things they didn’t mean to see. Often when I ask kids how they found inappropriate videos they will say, “It came up as a suggested video and I clicked on it.”
Every month I see more and more young kids who have been taught sexualized behavior through YouTube. These are young kids. Kids who in years past wouldn’t have discovered the meaning of sex for years to come. Kids who developmentally aren’t ready for such information, especially in the way it is delivered.
#2. Kids are developing fears from what they are watching on YouTube
Parents are bringing their kids in for fears. They tell me they don’t know why their child is so afraid to go into a room by themselves. They tell me that their child is afraid to go to bed alone. They are baffled as to what has happened.
Often in my office, the answer is revealed when they quietly ask, “Have you heard of Five Nights at Freddy’s?”
And there it is.
“Yes,” I say. “Do you play it?”
They sheepishly look around.
“No, I am not allowed. But, I watch YouTube videos about it.”
I hear this over and over and over again. So much so, that it seems like a silent mini-epidemic in my office. Kids are watching scary YouTube videos about all sorts of things.
Kids come in freaked out by Bloody Mary, Five Nights at Freddy’s and Annabelle. I tell them it’s not real. I tell them it’s just a legend, a video game or a movie. They feel better. They go home and watch YouTube. All my work is unraveled.
They come back in and tell me that Five Night’s at Freddy’s is real. “Why do you say that?” I ask. “Because I saw this video on YouTube…” they say. How do I explain to a young child that anyone with a camera and some cheap special effects can make a video? Anyone with half a brain can make a video and tell you things are real. Young kids don’t get that.
#3. Kids are copying irresponsible pranks they watch on YouTube
YouTube isn’t only teaching our kids about sex. It is freaking them out. Scaring them and daring them. Not to sound like an old fart, but it seems like every person with no frontal lobe is busy making videos recording their dumb acts. Unfortunately, young kids think this is cool. They are following these YouTubers. They are idolizing how they speak and how they act. They are emulating their behavior and their pranks – and they are getting hurt. They are getting in trouble.
What can parents do? Supervise and find alternatives.
Now I know some of you will happily declare, “I don’t let my kids anywhere near any of that! So, I don’t have to worry.” And perhaps some of you are thinking, “I will just make sure my kids never go on YouTube.” And as parents, you can do that, but that is not the purpose of this article.
We are living in a different world. A world that older generations don’t completely get. We don’t get the draw of watching videos of other people playing video games or dolls. We don’t get the allure of watching hours and hours of some guy talking in his basement or some girl making up a story with her Pet shops. Trust me, I am right there with you!
But we can’t have our children live in a bubble. Our world is changing and we have to change with it. As technology advances, we have to advance with it. We have to educate our kids and protect them using similar technology. Tablets, phones, and computers have parental controls. YouTube has an entire app just for children called YouTube Kids. An app where your kids can still join in the YouTube craze, but in a safer, more controlled way. However, you have to be careful. Things sneak through. Really disturbing things.
Here are a list of articles with lists of safe alternatives to Youtube:
It is important that as parents, we don’t bury our heads in the sand. We need to understand what is accessible to our kids. If your child doesn’t have access, their friends will. Trust me! We have to keep up, have more conversations and beyond everything else – set up parental controls.
Do you know someone who has children and can benefit from reading this article? Share this article with them!
I recently came across another therapist who offers an e-course to walk parents through completely safe guarding their technology. There are so many ways we can protect our kids if we just knew how! His wealth of knowledge is super helpful! You can learn more about his course here at iparent 101: Safety in the Digital Age.
Other articles/Resources on child safety: