NOTE: This article contains explicit information related to suicide and mental health that may not be suitable for all audience members. Discretion is advised.
Two separate reports involving self-harm and suicide have some parents worried about how children are spending their time online.
Earlier this month, U.S. pediatrician Dr. Free N. Hess posted a warning on her blog PediMom about cartoons on YouTube Kids embedded with hidden tips about suicide.
Last year, Hess posted about another cartoon on the children’s platform that had a clip of a man showing viewers how to slit wrists spliced in between.
Hess recently found another cartoon with the same harmful clip on YouTube (not YouTube Kids) and reached out to the video platform to have it removed.
“Looking back at the comments it appears that people began reporting this video approximately eight months ago, yet it is still able to be viewed,” she wrote.
All cartoons with the clip have now been taken down by the site.
According to a statement from a YouTube Canada spokesperson, the site is continuing to ensure all videos in YouTube Kids are family-friendly.
“We appreciate people drawing problematic content to our attention, and make it possible for anyone to flag a video,” YouTube said.
“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.”
The video platform added YouTube is not for children, and parents should only allow their children to have a controlled video viewing experience on YouTube Kids.
The Momo Challenge hoax
Another insidious thing happening online is the Momo Challenge, which has been circulating the internet since early 2018 and some believe it is a hoax. This cyber-bullying tactic, attached with a creepy photo of a woman’s face, urged people to do dangerous things.
Some cybersecurity experts previously told Global News hackers behind the challenge would threaten users to expose them, or hurt their families if they didn’t fulfill the challenge.
“You’ve got to look out for warning signs. For example, you pass by the iPad or the iPhone and they’re hovering over it. Or they’re being very secretive. They look exhausted. Some of these challenges demand that the person wake up at 3 a.m. in the morning,” said Montreal cybersecurity expert Terry Cutler in 2018.
But the challenge is also allegedly targeting young people on social media, BBC reported, encouraging them to take part in self-harm or even take their own lives.
This week, police in Northern Ireland advised parents to be cautious of the challenge, and how it could be run by hackers trying to find information, BBC reported. Although several news reports claim the “suicide game” is resulting in deaths, officials said this is not the case.
“This is merely a current, attention-grabbing example of the minefield that is online communication for kids,” officials said in a Facebook post.
YouTube Canada added the Momo Challenge video is not part of the YouTube community.
“Contrary to press reports, we have not received any links to videos showing or promoting the Momo Challenge on YouTube. Content of this kind would be in violation of our policies and removed immediately.“
There have been no confirmed Canadian cases of the hoax outside of the one report in Pointe-Claire, Que. Authorities in the U.K. are currently working to uncover the people behind the supposed challenge.
What parents can do
When it comes to online safety, there are few things parents should be mindful of.
For YouTube Kids specifically (an app that is separate from YouTube the site), parents can turn search off, preventing children from searching for content on their own.
Parents should also note children under 13 are not allowed to have YouTube pages.
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection (CCCP) noted all parents must be aware of what their children watch online and continue to have regular conversations of whom they interact with, even if it is a friend.
Parents should also set limits on how much time children spend on their devices. Depending on the child’s age, parents should also communicate some of the risks involved in accessing websites, games or social media sites online.
“Kids tend to get into situations where they feel like everyone’s going to blame them for an activity,” Christy Dzikowicz of CCCP previously told Global News.
“Maybe they’ve taken a few risks and gotten into a situation where they feel at fault. They need to understand when it’s an adult and a young person, they’re never at fault, no matter what they’ve engaged in at any point in time.”
Where to find help
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.
— With files from Billy Shields and Shannon Cuciz