Several weeks ago, a terrible thing happened in our household. My daughter was watching YouTube through her account (which has Safety Mode enabled to the most extreme level possible.) She was in her bedroom with the door closed. Until this point, my peeks through her search history had uncovered nothing more interesting than Sailor Moon videos, let’s plays, video game cheats and walk-throughs. No biggie.
On the evening in question, my daughter exclaimed in a cheery voice from her bedroom door, “Mom, come look at this! It’s HILARIOUS!!!!” I bounced down the hall toward her room grinning ready for another cute dog video. I wasn’t expecting what happened next. Still beaming, she turned her iPad around and what faced me made my stomach twist. She had been watching a segment from a shock-news programme about a two-year-old girl who had been attacked by an unprovoked pit bull. The sweet face of a critically wounded toddler smiled back at me. I was speechless.
When my voice finally returned, it was shrill and raw. “What is WRONG with you?” I screamed. “Are you broken? There’s nothing hilarious about a girl being almost killed in a dog attack!!!!” I started pacing the house. Then my husband came over to see what the trouble was. I had lost all composure. “If you think that’s funny, why don’t we just go down to Children’s Hospital so you can have a really good laugh. You can see some other hilarious kids who are suffering in the burn unit! Would you like that?? Huh?” That’s when my husband stepped in and told me to maybe go walk it off. I’d gone too far. I couldn’t help it. I was raging.
I grabbed my jacket, keys, cell and my dog and I called my mom. I needed to talk it out. I was incredulous. Where had I gone wrong? How could my sweet girl enjoy a baby’s suffering? My mother was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. “Maybe she was just responding the way her peers would?” It was a good point; hers is a generation addicted to viral videos and violent video games. In fact, on three recent occasions, my teen students have shown me YouTube videos that really disturbed me during class. On one occasion, it was a video of a gang of boys attacking a stray dog that was trapped in a skatepark. It scrambled to get out of the curved pit as they hit it with a rod. Another time, a young woman burst out laughing in class and turned her iPhone toward me to reveal a video of two men beating a dog to death, purportedly to harvest its fur. It screamed and struggled to escape the confined area surrounded by what (in a split second of viewing) appeared to be at least a dozen recently killed dogs. A third time, a student showed me a video of a young Jordanian pilot being burned alive inside a wire cage. On all three occasions the student was merely amused whereas I had to leave the room to clear my head. Once, I even went to the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face.
After the dog attack video incident involving my pre-teen daughter, I decided enough was enough. I deleted YouTube from all of her devices and I confiscated her iPad indefinitely. (Apparently, during my rage I had banned it until Christmas. That was a bit of overkill, but I was lost in the moment.) I decided that she was most definitely spending too much time on YouTube, and it is notoriously difficult to govern. The last thing I want is for her to stumble across something truly awful like my students had shown me. Would she laugh at that, too? I couldn’t take the chance. She’s young and impressionable yet. Better play it safe: Bye-bye, YouTube.
Then tonight happened. As we walked home together from the local community centre where she has after-school care, she began to tell me about her day. “Today at lunch the boys were watching a video.” “Oh, yeah?” I casually replied. “Yeah, and the man got his head cut off in the video, and I asked them ‘Do you think it’s hilarious that the man’s head got cut off?’ and the boys were like, no…” And then the boys slinked off – ashamed – and my daughter went and told the teachers. She said that they should delete YouTube off his phone because he was watching bad videos that showed a man getting hurt and that’s not funny. I was so proud I almost burst.
Twenty minutes later, she had her iPad back (still minus YouTube.) I think she earned it. 🙂