Panicked parents across my newsfeeds are sharing reports that it’s popping up in seemingly innocuous children’s YouTube videos and messaging apps, instructing kids to perform tasks such as turn on stoves while their families are sleeping, stab others or even kill themselves. The Momo Challenge, it is called. But as disturbing as it all sounds, it is largely a viral hoax, a shock story akin to the Blue Whale game. (I first heard about Momo last summer—it was not a real threat then, nor is it now. It’s just that today the story can’t be avoided.)
Parents: Let’s turn the panic away from Momo (and for the love, please stop sharing that photo), and start talking about the bigger issue—YouTube. YouTube remains a place where kids can come across strange, disturbing, even violent scenes within shows aimed at them. YouTube is an un-curated abyss of sometimes-crappy, sometimes-wonderful content where horrible things can slip into.
If you have kids, the easiest thing to do is ban YouTube—get it off your phones, your iPads, your TVs. This, I believe, is a perfectly sensible solution, especially for younger kids. There are plenty of other, safer platforms they can be spending their allotted screen time on—Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, PBS Kids, an app called Jellies, and more.
Still, there’s tons of great stuff on YouTube that you can’t find elsewhere, and we assume not every parent wants to give the whole thing up. So proceed with caution. Here are some steps you can take to help keep your kids safe.
YouTube Kids, YouTube’s “family-friendly app,” is not a perfect solution (there have been problems with inappropriate content slipping past the algorithms), but it does have more tools for parents to customize their child’s viewing experience. (A YouTube spokesperson tells me that regular YouTube is not for kids under 13, anyway, as stated in the terms of service.)
Last year, the app launched parent-approved content, a control that lets you handpick every video and channel available to your child.
How to set it up:
1) Open settings.
2) Go to the child’s profile.
3) Select “approved content only.” Then start picking videos and channels for your kids. In this mode, kids are not able to search for content on their own.
You also have the option to limit YouTube Kids to only play human-approved channels. The YouTube spokesperson recommends that parents flag any inappropriate videos for their review, stating that “flagged videos are manually reviewed 24/7 and any videos that don’t belong in the app are removed.”