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'3 am challenge': The YouTube trend that may be keeping your kid up at night

In a spooky YouTube trend, people are creating videos that show themselves awake at 3 a.m., trying to make paranormal contact.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

The next time the tiny humans in your house are having trouble falling asleep, you may want to check their viewing history on YouTube.

In a growing trend, YouTube content creators like Jason Ethier, who owns YouTube channel ImJayStation, are uploading creepy "3 a.m. challenge" videos of themselves seeking paranormal activity at 3 a.m., which some call "the devil's hour" or "the witching hour."

"The videos are about trying to experience paranormal activity on camera," Ethier, who lives in Canada, told TODAY Parents. "I make the challenges because I have always been interested in ghosts and spirits ... what makes them scary is that when you are doing things to attract ghosts into your house — even if you don't believe in ghosts — it's always in your mind that it could be real."

But it's not only adults like Ethier who are creating the spooky videos. Ruby Coker, an 11-year-old from the U.K. who posts videos on her YouTube channel, RubyRube, has posted more than 40 of the creepy videos.

Ruby's step-father, Bruno Santos, says the videos — which show Ruby attempting to play hide-and-seek with dolls or asking Siri spooky questions on her iPhone at 3 a.m. — are all in good fun.

In most of the videos, Ruby sets an alarm on her phone for 3 a.m., then sneaks around her house while her parents are sleeping, attempting scary tasks. TODAY Parents followed up with Santos to ask whether or not his step-daughter truly wakes up at 3 a.m. without their knowledge, but as of the publication of this article, he had not replied.

"It started with making slime at 3 a.m. and sparked from there," said Santos in his initial interview, adding that while adult versions of the videos sometimes involve scary rituals, Ruby's spin is that anything you do in the early morning hours can seem spooky. "They are made for fun and for entertainment purposes, and even a laugh. But, at the same time, they set a scary atmosphere for anyone to enjoy."

While many of the scarier versions of the videos are only available on YouTube, versions made by children are easy to access on the YouTube Kids app. Rachel Greenway's three young daughters range in age from 5-11, and the Pennsylvania mom says she was shocked when her girls asked about participating in the challenge themselves.

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"They asked if I had heard of the 3 a.m. challenge and when I asked what it was, they told me you wake up at 3 a.m. — the devil's hour — and something bad happens to you by way of a ghost," said Greenway. "They said, 'We would never try it, Mom,' and I said, 'No. You won't.'"

And Greenway's daughters aren't the only ones curious about the video trend. Search engine data shows the 3 a.m. challenge started spiking in interest in May 2017 and began rising again in August 2017, presumably when many kids returned to school and began chatting about the videos.

Dr. Barbara Greenberg, a family psychologist, says as with any social media, parents should be aware of the kinds of content their kids are watching on YouTube. And, Greenberg says when it comes to kids, it's normal for them to enjoy scaring themselves.

"As kids, we used to tell each other horror stories like this," said Greenberg. "But the thing is, they didn't spread as widely and as quickly because we didn't have social media."

"Kids are really very wired to to explore all of their feelings," Greenberg continued, explaining that young children tend to experiment with any emotion that makes them feel aroused or excited. "Kids are exploring the whole spectrum of emotion. As adults, we know what is going to scare us or give us nightmares, but kids don't really know that yet, so they're trying to find that out."

Greenberg says kids tend to push limits when it comes to frightening things, which sometimes leads to them being unable to fall asleep at bedtime due to fear.

"If your kid is scared about something, you have to help them feel empowered," said Greenberg. "Explain to them that the purpose of these videos is to scare them, and talk through the evidence that what they are afraid of is not actually going to happen."

Greenberg says it's important to validate kids' fears, and to teach them to self-soothe when they are having trouble falling asleep by teaching them strategies like listening to calming music or reading a funny book.

"Never dismiss what your kids have to say," said Greenberg. "If your kids are coming to you talking about what they're afraid of, that's a beautiful thing and it's an experience that provides them with the opportunity both to be soothed by you, and to learn to soothe themselves."