You might know what your child is looking at, but you don’t know what they’re seeing

I ran down to find our son doubled over, clutching his belly and crying. I couldn’t figure out what had happened; he was inconsolable

When your child begins to have nightmares it is an unexpectedly upsetting experience.

Now you might think, what’s the big deal? We all have nightmares. And that’s true. But when it first happens it’s hard not to see the harsh truth behind it: there are times, no matter how hard we try, when we can’t protect our children from pain. Before they didn’t have nightmares; now they do. Their little brains are growing, developing, figuring out how the world works – and that is a beautiful thing to witness. But it also means they can now experience stress, anxiety and fear.

Not so long ago our son had a terrible nightmare. He woke petrified and sobbing. It would tear your heart to shreds to see a child so frightened. At least when we get old we understand what nightmares are; can you imagine the fear of having one for the first time? You would, of course, think it’s real.

Once he calmed down he told us what he saw. I was sitting in my chair in the sitting room, but I wouldn’t get up. I wouldn’t even move, no matter how hard he tried to make me. I stayed like that for so long vines started to wrap themselves around me. Then vines began to grow out of my fingernails, my eyes and my nose, tying me to the chair. And then he woke up. Absolutely terrifying.


The next morning as I sat in my chair I thought to myself, man…maybe I do sit here too much. Would it kill me to go out for a walk?

The nightmare triggered a barrage of questions to be answered over the following days, but life went on and eventually it was forgotten. At least we thought it was.

Fast-forward a few weeks to a moment of undiluted chaos in the house. It was like that scene in Home Alone, when about 20 people are milling about, all trying to get ready at the same time. The difference being there’s only four of us. How (and I mean this with absolute sincerity) can it be so difficult to get two small children out the door?

So anyway, in a moment of weakness I gave our son my phone to momentarily remove him from the equation. I freely admit that over the past year these moments of weakness have become increasingly frequent.

I stuck on YouTube Kids and plopped him on the couch. For those unaware, YouTube Kids is an app that supposedly provides curated and safe content for children. The idea being you can let them watch videos safe in the knowledge that nothing weird or unsavoury will pop up.

My wife left for work. I dressed our daughter. A calm descended.


I was upstairs when I heard the scream, followed by a thud. Moving about 400 times faster than I thought previously possible, I ran down to find our son doubled over, clutching his belly and crying. I couldn’t figure out what had happened; he was inconsolable. He kept saying he had a pain in his stomach. I held him and rubbed his back (still only four years old) and quickly weighed up the options: doctor, hospital or…what? I was genuinely worried.

Then I half-heard something…a word he said between the sobs: vines.

Here’s what happened. Innocently and happily watching videos on the couch while his dumb dad took his sweet time getting ready, our poor son was shown his worst nightmare. I don’t mean that facetiously. The worst thing he could have seen, he saw. The video is called Watermelon: A Cautionary Tale. It’s about a boy who, ignoring his mother’s bizarre warnings, swallows a watermelon seed. The seed grows inside the boy’s stomach and proceeds to consume him from the inside out, eventually turning him into a plant. It is our son’s nightmare brought hideously to life.

It provoked such a severe reaction that his stomach cramped up and he threw the phone across the room. I have made plenty of mistakes as a parent, but nothing has made me feel as bad as this. Through big, fat wet tears he asked me what would happen if he swallowed a watermelon seed. He asked me if vines would come out my fingernails. He asked me if a plant could grow out of our stomach. Holding him in my lap I rubbed his back and told him none of that can happen. It was just a silly story. What I didn’t say was: this is my fault.

Easy way out

I am not philosophically against letting a child look at a screen in moderation. Is it an excuse to say lockdown was hard? The phone was an easy way out. Four walls and a rainy day? Fine, two minutes and that’s it! Kids screaming in the back of a car? F*ck it. What’s the harm?

Well, here it is: you might know what your child is looking at, but you don’t know what they’re seeing. You might think it’s harmless. YouTube Kids might even tell you it’s harmless. And it is, until your kid sees something so terrifying it cripples them. The world can be a scary place; I don’t need to invite it with open arms into our home. So that’s it – no more phones.

We’re five days into this extraordinary new era. I was going to ask for your thoughts and prayers, but honestly, it’s been grand.

Who knew?