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The Most Disturbing YouTube Videos (and What to Do About Them)

It's easy to dismiss violent clips of people fighting, but it's important to talk to kids about why they're popular and help them make positive viewing choices.

Of all the wild videos kids watch on YouTube, some of the most disturbing are the ones of people fighting. Playground brawls, gang fights, teachers bullying students, students mocking teachers until the teacher snaps -- they all play out in grainy videos captured and uploaded via cell phone. There's even an entire category of victims seeking revenge on their bullies -- making it difficult for kids to figure out who's right and who's wrong.

You hope that your kid doesn't find these violent videos on the Internet. But the fact that there are so many of them -- and that the number of viewers keeps on increasing -- indicates just how popular they are. Every so often, a particularly violent video -- like a gang of kids beating up a helpless victim -- goes viral. And once that happens, it's not just online; once a viral video makes headlines, it gets broadcast on the evening news and other TV outlets, making absolutely sure your kids see it.

What you can do

If your kid has watched fight videos, avoid blaming or shaming. Curiosity, vicarious thrills, fascination, and pure entertainment value (as pitiful as it sounds) are all valid and normal. Kids see people behaving cruelly on shows such as Tosh.0 and Cops and don't always understand that there's real pain and suffering going on.

What if your kid was the creator? Understand that kids' ability with technology often outstrips their judgment. When you give your kid a powerful video-capable cell phone, talk about how to use it responsibly and respectfully. And, technology and availability aside, it's vital to determine whether there's an underlying problem causing your kid to act out.

Whether your kid has seen these videos or has helped create them, help him or her understand the victims' suffering, the witnesses' callousness, and why videotaping fighting for entertainment is taking pleasure from others' misery. In today's digital world, a person can record and upload a video in minutes. Not a lot of thought goes into it. But you can encourage your kids to think critically about their own behavior, how their behavior affects others, and what they choose to watch.

Here are some more tips:

Help your kid tap into feelings of empathy. Screaming, cursing, beatings, stabbings, smack downs. The more kids see, the more "normal" it appears. Repeated viewings can desensitize your kids to the fact that the people in YouTube videos are real flesh and blood. Ask them how they'd feel in real life if someone they knew was hospitalized after a beating received at the hands of classmates.

Discuss the difference between sport fighting and real brutality. Martial arts, wrestling, and other contact sports have rules and referees. But when people get hurt, that's not entertainment -- that's bullying. And it has real consequences, for both victims and aggressors.

Teach positive conflict resolution. Explain your values regarding violent behavior and the importance of handling clashes non-violently. Tell kids what the consequences in society -- and in your own house -- will be for any aggressive behavior.

Use YouTube's social nature for good. One of the reasons kids love YouTube is because it's social. They can express their opinions about what they see, and they can flag inappropriate videos. They can also create videos that can have a positive effect on the culture of the Internet.

Explain how to be careful when creating pictures and videos. Tell your kids never to post anything harassing or obscene. Kids have to remember that once something is posted, they lose total control over it. It can roam the Internet forever, freely, and be watched by anyone for any purpose.

Find better videos. There's so much to uncover on YouTube that can be fun, inspiring, and educational -- help your kids make better selections that are age appropriate.

Caroline Knorr
Caroline is Common Sense Media's former parenting editor. She has many years of editorial and creative marketing writing experience and has held senior-level positions at Walmart.com, Walmart stores, Cnet, and Bay Area Parent magazine. She specializes in translating complex information into bite-sized chunks to help families make informed choices about what their kids watch, play, read, and do.