Just before Thanksgiving, my wife and I went to Kansas to attend my cousin’s wedding.
It was the first time we had ever flown with my son. Needless to say, we were worried that he’d throw a fit and the TSA would add us to their infamous “Do not fly” list for life.
So we thought ahead and got our son a Kindle and some little kid headphones. We downloaded a bunch of cartoons that he likes and tried to keep his attention focused on Bubble Guppies and Daniel Tiger.
It worked great. The flight was a breeze. Although the Kindle has served us since then, it doesn’t hold his attention very well at home. At home, he’ll only watch it for like 10 minutes.
After that, he’s off spinning around like a tornado turning the lights on and off, grabbing toothbrushes, and chasing our dogs around. But you know what does hold his attention? YouTube.
There are tens of thousands of content creators, both foreign and domestic, creating hundreds of thousands of hours of “kids content” on YouTube. It’s mostly trippy stuff. There are videos with Spiderman, Batman, Goku and Mickey Mouse in sanitized demolition derby-type races. There’s grown men changing Lego-filled diapers and Tickle-Me Elmo. And my personal favorite, Pink Fong. They’re the people responsible for Baby Shark becoming a club-banging hit.
All the stuff I’m mentioning is weird, but it’s safe. There’s nothing wrong with kids watching it.
I grew up watching Tom & Jerry and I watched Ash Ketchum dog fight with Pokemon and I turned out moderately fine. If I can survive a cat attacking a mouse with a cheese grater, I’m sure my son can handle the children’s version of “I Am The Walrus” sung backwards by a giant potato.
But not everything on YouTube is kid-friendly. Sometimes, people splice weird content in the middle of videos to try and scare kids who think they’re about to watch a pirated Peppa Pig episode. This isn’t new, but it’s receiving renewed attention.
Recently I’ve seen stories on both about the “Momo Challenge.”
If you haven’t heard of this challenge, let me fill you in on what the kids are saying on the streets. A lot of parents are under the impression that the Momo Challenge is a bunch of creepy content being spliced into what first appear to be innocent YouTube videos. So your kid is watching a funny cartoon dog running around the beach when all of the sudden a girl comes out of nowhere and tells the viewer to kill him/herself or drink bleach or something equally disturbing.
Parents are worried that there are kids taking this “Momo” seriously and that kids are dropping faster than the days before we had vaccines. The problem is that’s not happening.
First, the Momo challenge is not something on YouTube. It’s on another app called WhatsApp. Supposedly, you contact a certain person via the app and they ask you questions or dare you to do things and take photos to prove you did the dare. These dares escalate until “Momo” asks you to kill yourself.
So right off the bat, unless your toddler is so much more gifted than mine, he or she probably isn’t using WhatsApp.
Second, there isn’t really a record of Momo being responsible for anybody dying. There are a handful of stories worldwide where it was rumored that some kids died or harmed themselves while doing Momo’s dares, but there’s no proof that Momo had anything to do with these deaths. These police investigations have all turned up inconclusive at best.
Third, putting weird stuff in innocent-looking content is not new. We’ve been doing it since that stupid maze game first went live, On the internet, they call it CreepyPasta. Just because you didn’t know about it before doesn’t mean it’s a new trend. It’s not.
Fourth, as long as news organizations think they can get clicks or viewers, they’ll cover the story. And nothing gets eyeballs more than knowing that your dear little Braxtyn might be watching scary monster movies and that those videos might kill him.
But as long as we continue to cover this nonstory and obsess over it, it will only encourage weirdos to start making more kids CreepyPasta, exacerbating a problem that didn’t exist.
All of this is to say two things.
First, you’re responsible for monitoring what your kids watch and listen to, not some corporation. You’re the parent. So take some responsibility.
Second, if you see something weird, don’t take to Facebook to complain. Flag it. Report it. Block the account. Change the video. Help make YouTube’s job easier.
Provo might not have invented parenting, but we’ve industrialized it. There are a billion parenting groups out here, and from what I can tell, they’re all at least a little worried that Momo is coming after their kids Ring-style.
It’s not. Stop worrying. Don’t make this a thing. Your little Jazlin will be fine.