Parenting
Many parents are unaware that platforms like YouTube can throw up malicious videos with violent and explicit content disguised as cartoons.
Screenshot/ Youtube

It was a routine day when Sharanya Ramanathan, mom to a 2-year-old, froze at the sight of what was playing on her daughter's iPad. The child had given Sharanya the iPad, telling her that "Peppa Pig wasn't coming any more". Instead, Sharanya discovered, the cartoon was now showing Elsa (Frozen) and Spiderman indulging in an explicit make-out session.

"It was ten minutes into the Peppa Pig episode that this happened," says Sharanya, adding that the cartoon she played was from a compilation done by a random channel, not the official one. 

What many parents don’t know is that there’s a new genre of porn spreading on the Internet – explicit and violent videos disguised as cartoons or characters from children's movies enacting age-inappropriate or disturbing acts. 

What's most frightening about this is that the child doesn't go actively looking for the content, unlike adults who surf for explicit or violent content because they get a kick out of it. Most children don't quite understand what they're watching. 

"It is so perverted because you know someone out there has made this in the hope that a child will watch it without even realising what she is watching," says Nazreen*. Nazreen's child, too, was watching a "harmless" video based on Frozen when suddenly, the characters began lifting each other's clothes for "fun".

Adults, who assume that the child is watching "kiddie" content, often don't supervise them too closely. And even if the child says something about the characters behaving in a "funny" way, the grown-ups are unlikely to pay attention.

Anne Preethi's daughter is six and old enough to click on the suggested videos list that shows up on YouTube. One day, Anne noticed that the list had titles like "Pregnant Elsa", "Cinderella Molestation" and so on. 

"It happens even on YouTube Kids," says Anne. "The phone she uses is actually my mother-in-law's and the latter does not know anything beyond making or attending calls on the phone. So, my daughter ends up watching all this when my husband and I are away at work. Finally, we had to disable mobile data and WiFi on that phone."

A quick run through such videos on YouTube throws up some very creepy visuals. Children getting run over by cars, getting their teeth extracted, familiar cartoon characters assaulted by scary looking creatures and so on. Many of these videos have millions of views. 

But even apart from such videos that are deliberately made with a malicious intent, YouTube can be quite an unsafe space for your child.

As Maya Balaji* says, "The related videos is the bane of one's existence. I once saw my five-year-old son watching a video on bariatric surgery. How he came upon it was like this: He was watching a video on Volcanoes for kids. Related: Human body for kids. Related: Human body. Related: Obesity in America. Related: Bariatric surgery. Since then, I only let him AirPlay it on the TV, so I know what's going on and change it."

Lathika Kumar* agrees. Her son, a fan of trains, has sometimes watched gory train accident videos because of the suggested list that shows up. 

Inappropriate videos can also show up through the 'Voice Search' option - the child may say one thing and the videos that turn up could be something else altogether.

Further, parents say, the ads that come in between these videos, even if the videos themselves are age-appropriate, can be totally unsuitable. 

"Suddenly, a condom ad or something violent and/or with stunts can show up," says Maya. 

With more and more children using technology at a very young age, it has become imperative for parents to step up security measures. Content filters don't always work, especially in the case of malicious videos.

It is important to ensure that the child does not operate the gadget without supervision. Apart from playing videos through the TV so the parent knows what the child is watching, some parents also disable the home Internet connection when the child is under the care of babysitters or grandparents who may not be adept with technology. Some parents have also switched away from YouTube to safer platforms like NetFlix. 

While it may not be practical any more to keep technology out of our lives entirely, it is the responsibility of parents to make the Internet a safe space for children, they say.

*Names changed on request