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.
Caroline Knorr Parenting Editor | Mom of one Categories: Cell Phone Parenting, Violence in the Media
Parenting Editor | Mom of one

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.

About Caroline Knorr

As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for…?"... Read more

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Comments (9)

Adult written by Melanie Kicks

Fighting is a sport but watching fights arouses violent emotions. I think it's better to exercise outside rather, whatever makes the kid happy (even martial arts!)
Parent of a 17 year old written by bill@cooperativ...

I agree with all of your tips Caroline, but why weren't there other suggestions such as supervising their access to Youtube, or limiting their access with rules and boundaries, or supervising access to the internet or internet enabled devices? It stumps me why "experts" rarely suggest limiting kids and teens access to distractions or inappropriate material. It's always, "talk to them about it." We can't keep our kids safe and focuses to preserve their childhood, with talk alone. There should be a balance of talk and managing.
Parent written by LinVA

Great point. Something that few are willing to discuss is Google's disinterest in making parental controls for YouTube that actually work. The controls are assigned by the browser being used, rather than by the Google account holder. And my 11-year-old can turn off the parental controls. If Google cares about kids and families, they could come up with something better. The same is true for Apple devices in general. Why is it possible for me to set both the curfew and the total number of hours for my kids on any Microsoft device, but I can't do it for any Apple device? The technology is obviously available, so that suggests it is a deliberate decision on Apple's part not to help parents.
Educator and Parent of a 16 year old written by Caroline Knorr

You raise an important question -- and I agree that a balance of talk and managing is ideal. Supervising, setting boundaries, and limiting access are all encompassed in the idea of teaching your kids how to use technology respectfully and responsibly (which is the foundation for everything else -- and which is stated early in the article). But every family has different views on how to set appropriate boundaries that work for their individual needs, interests, schedules, and values. And while many families strive to manage kids' media and technology exposure, the reality is that technology and media are ever-present in our kids' lives. By teaching them how to think critically and regulate their own usage parents can help kids learn how to use these powerful tools wisely and make smart choices.
Parent written by shrixs

Fighting is not the most disturbing videos on youtube. Pornography is. Porn and random people having actual sex or doing sexual activities are ALL over youtube. I would love to report them but there is no real report able to do so, you can choose to flag a video but they apparently don't do much about them. I have flagged countless videos that are actual porn and they are not removed. Seriously youtube is okay with allowing filth which is why I will not allow my kids to use youtube.
Teen, 15 years old written by ASLgirl

I have watched video blogs of membrers of my favorite bands fighting. Yes, some of it might be staged because a camera is around, and some of the band members are siblings, but it doesn't make it right, so I don't feel a need to repeat it.
Parent written by RobAlister

I think it's better to teach them that senseless violence is bad and not that any kind of physical altercation is bad. What if your kid finds themselves in a situation where they cannot easily leave or escape? Will his or her only move be to sit there and get pounced?
Adult written by Lewcas

Yes, fighting is a sport. My son has been studying karate for eight years, and is a black belt competitor in points sparring and sport jiujitsu. He and his teammates follow the code of the martial artist - outside of a class or tournament they do not start fights, and fight only if necessary to defend their lives, their honor, or their principles. Since he has a fighting instinct, we would much rather he expresses it in a sport with rules, protective gear and adult supervision, than beating people up in the school parking lot. On the contrary, he has stepped in several times and defended kids who were being bullied. I am sure many parents will not agree with our allowing him to fight, but this is what we choose as right for our child.
Kid, 12 years old

Like that would influence kids. It might influence younger kids but not teens!