The Internet has revolutionised the way we listen to music and watch video and we can easily combine the two now. Long gone are the days when you had to go round your friends house who had MTV to watch your favourite bands music video.
It has also made it a lot more accessible for younger children and yes, I am a mum who from early on in my children's life, I found YouTube a Godsend for being able to put out an hours worth of nursery rhymes on to silence my whining child. When my oldest was born 6 and half years ago I naively put a CD player in the nursery with a few old lullaby cds thinking this is how I would rock him to sleep. The CD player is now covered in dust and the CDs have been used as a frisbee, long scratched and broken. The reality is that my children could swipe on my iPone before they could talk and they love the auditory and visual stimulation that pictures moving to sound gives them, however mindless it often is to us.
But this week we had a reality check. Both kids have got tablets which were Christmas presents, with the appropriate kids settings on. My 3 year old asked for Baby Shark so I typed it in and he watched it plus the similar suggested videos which come up afterwards. “Scary Flying Shark and Halloween Nursery Rhymes” came up next and he found it hilarious. Thinking he was happy I got on with things I had to do.
That night he got really upset at bedtime and he's usually great at going to bed. When I finally calmed him down and got him to tell me what was wrong he said he was scared of sharks, which I thought strange as like many kids at the moment he's really into sharks! I said there aren't any sharks here and settled him down. The same thing happened the following night and he said he was scared of a shark flying in to our house and eating him in the night. Then I remembered Scary Flying Shark. I calmed him down and said goodnight and then searched for the video.
I was overcome with guilt that I let him watch this video. After the initial fun song, it was a cartoon horror story of a shark who died and came back to haunt people, flying into their houses at night, biting their arms off, plus zombies, ware-wolfs and ghosts as well. I thought the Halloween nursery rhymes would be “3 Little Pumpkins” etc which he loves. Shouldn't nursery rhymes be suitable for nursery age?!!! Oh wait... it has “Wheels on the bus” at the end.
Now fuming, I reported the video to YouTube and then deleted the app on both children's tablets. Then I see Facebook and the reports of Momo videos leaked into Kids YouTube. Did he see something more sinister as well? Whether that was a hoax or not, like many other parents it has left me feeling guilty, angry and scared for my children and wondering how I can protect them. So I thought I would share some of my thoughts with you:
~ Don't put your trust in the Kids Settings. It seems that there is so much content out there and it is not all checked so it may not all be age appropriate. Nursery Rhymes made me think it would be ok, but Halloween probably should have rung alarm bells. What is appropriate for an 8 year old isn't got to be ok for a 3 year old. Although you can set age limits, YouTube itself even say, “No automated system is perfect.”
~ Do report anything you think is unsuitable (you need to log in to Google or YouTube) as they do say they take this seriously.
~ A police officer friend recommended that you watch videos they might like first, like an hour of nursery rhymes or an hour of Peppa Pig – not avidly just have it on while you cook dinner for example. Then when you know it's safe, save it. Then only let you child watch your saved videos and you know you can leave them with it for a certain amount of time.
~ Do they NEED to watch YouTube? We realised we have so much content available in this house why are they even watching YouTube anyway? We bought the tablets so they could play interactive educational games after all! We have Netflix, Amazon, Sky Kids and cupboards of DVDs so why even bother with unboxing toys, Thomas with a strange voice and putting toy cars through a shredder?!
~ There are some great safe apps instead. We've loved Little Baby Bum (same as what they put on YouTube but you pay about £1.50 for not having the adverts – totally worth it), various CBeebies apps and the Thomas Minis app where they can build their own track. (Although my son was doing this then watching someone else do it on YouTube. Whaaat??) Also, it's not a kids app but Garage Band, which is free on Apple devices, is great as they can play a piano, guitar, bass and other instruments so its great to get them making the music themselves and hear the different (realistic) sounds.
~ Turn the Wifi off on the tablet they are using. Then there's no annoying adverts and no chance that anything in the app can connect to anything unwanted.
~ Something I only just discovered on our Amazon tablets is the “On Deck” videos which lets you download Amazon Prime content and save them to watch even without Internet access. Super Simple Songs do a good nursery rhyme/kids song compilation which includes Baby Shark!!
~ Do something that doesn't involve a screen. I know I feel guilty when they've watched too much TV in a day, but we all know sometimes its the easiest way to get things done and we all do it. But if you've got the chance to do something else then do! Play their favourite music and see what actions they can remember without being prompted by the screen. Dance or play musical instruments together! Or get them to pre-tend they are making their own YouTube video to encourage them with imaginative play! My son actually asked us to record him talking about all his toy cars. He was fantastic and so knowledgable and it was a great home movie to keep.
There is loads more advice on online safety out there recommended by the Police and other official bodies, plus Internet Safety Day which is delivered in schools. This is by no means an exhaustive list and these are just my own personal changes which I've made and hope will be useful for you too. For all I would like to blame the Internet and the threats it poses to my children, a lot of these platforms were never designed with children in mind, and it really is our responsibility as parents to ensure their safety online as with anything else. If we give them devices with this capability we need to teach them how to use them appropriately, and set examples ourselves.