Thanks to Paranormal Activity and its sequels, there’s probably not a parent alive who’s fond of checking on their baby using a grainy, black-and-white camera. Unfortunately, our options are limited, and baby monitors are the best we’ve got.
Still, we had to ask: Why do they have to be so creepy? Why do night-vision color schemes look so strange? Do baby monitor manufacturers go out of their way to keep parents feeling horrified?
We decided to look into some of the more disturbing baby monitor stories making the rounds on the internet to determine whether they’re worth all the fright. In most cases, we found plausible explanations, but we also found some serious issues that will certainly change our baby-monitoring habits from this point forward.
Strange images on baby monitors usually have a simple explanation.
Take a look at the picture below. At first, this doesn’t seem like a disturbing photo. There is, of course, a catch: The family only has one child.
Yes, we know, it’s terrifying. If you just shuddered and dropped your phone/ran away from your computer, we don’t blame you. However, this photo certainly isn’t proof of the paranormal.
Upon closer inspection, the second “baby” clearly doesn’t exist. He’s a combination of shadows and a slightly strange pattern on the bed sheets, but if you didn’t immediately notice that, don’t feel bad.
Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon in which people see patterns that don’t actually exist. Humans frequently mistake these patterns as faces, since our brains are wired to recognize other humans. Women are more susceptible to pareidolia than men, by the way, and while we couldn’t find any studies to prove that motherhood plays a role in this phenomenon, we’ve got a hunch.
Most weird baby monitor photos can be easily attributed to psychological phenomena like pareidolia. That also explains pictures like this, which appeared on Imgur with the following caption:
“My sister heard strange laughing from her son’s room, looked at the baby monitor, and saw this.”
The laughter likely came from the baby—or it never existed in the first place—and the “ghastly face” is a crumpled-up sheet. In any case, it makes for a great story (or urban legend).
We don’t blame parents who get a little freaked out when they see something weird. After all, baby monitors typically don’t broadcast high-quality images, so it’s easy to make a mistake. Remove some of the cues (like color) that would normally tell us “this isn’t a face,” add the stress and insomnia that accompany parenthood, and you’ve got a recipe for some late-night creepiness.
This article will probably disappoint ghost hunters, but parents, you can breathe a little easier. We’re happy to report that spirits still aren’t real, and the next Paranormal Activity won’t take place in your child’s bedroom.
Other strange baby monitor incidents don’t have any sort of supernatural twist.
Take this photo, which frequently appears on lists of creepy baby monitor shots.
Without a doubt, it’s creepy, but it’s not exactly mysterious; it’s simply a child standing in front of a camera. While the night vision makes it creepy, we’re not really freaked out (although we do wonder whether the parents improved their crib security after snapping this shot).
Likewise, we’ll admit that this next picture looks shocking, but as every parent knows, kids can be freakishly flexible.
Other strange baby monitor experiences are clear hoaxes or pranks. Those might be our favorites. This popular video shows YouTube user Rich Ferguson executing a simple, easy, and totally harmless prank on his wife.
Ferguson basically took a three-minute video and loaded it into his baby monitor. As the clip shows, it doesn’t take him long to make the changes.
Maybe that shouldn’t surprise use. After all, baby monitors are fairly simple technology; most simply consist of a video monitor, a transmitter, and a couple of microphones. Dedicated hobbyists can easily take advantage of security flaws to pull pranks on their loved ones.
With that said…
With baby monitors, there are a few real-world dangers to consider.
In April 2015, an anonymous couple relayed their real-life horror story to CBS News in New York.
The parents say that a strange voice came through their two-way monitor. The mother was within earshot during one of the occurrences.
“Wake up little boy,” the voice reportedly said, “Daddy’s looking for you.”
The 3-year-old child told CBS that he was terrified of the voice. Understandably, his parents echoed that sentiment.
“My wife walked in and I heard the exact words, ‘Look someone’s coming, or someone’s coming into view,'” the father told the channel. Someone was watching their child—and whoever it was, they’d been watching for a while.
A mother in Lacey, Washington recounted a similar story to local news station KIRO 7.
“For months, my son was telling his family that the ‘telephone’ was telling him to stay in bed,” the woman told the station.
Initially, she wrote off the incidents, assuming that her child had an overactive imagination. One day, that changed abruptly. She was approaching the his room when she heard a strange woman’s voice coming through her baby monitor.
“Oh, watch this one, she’s coming in again,” the voice reportedly said.
Once again, there’s no supernatural explanation, but in this case, that’s not exactly comforting. We found a half-dozen cases in which hackers accessed baby monitors. Most were trying to play pranks on parents; some seemed intent on tormenting children.
“Hackers can easily target baby monitors,” Ben Carmitchel, president of Datarecovery.com, tells HealthyWay. Carmitchel is an IT security consultant and computer forensics expert.
“I wish I could say that these were isolated incidents, but there are hacking communities set up that enjoy ‘pranking’ families by accessing WiFi-capable monitors,” he says. “Most of the time, they’re just looking for cruel laughs, but obviously it’s a huge security concern for parents.”
A quick YouTube search brings up dozens of videos of hacked baby monitors (some of which are clearly fake, but hey, that’s YouTube). In one of the most popular videos, hackers wake up a child in the middle of the night by playing Smash Mouth’s “All Star.”
At first, this “prank” seems harmless, but it’s a gross misunderstanding of boundaries, at the very least. At its worst, it’s downright sinister. Hackers are essentially telling parents that they have full access to their targets, and that’s a disturbing idea.
That has prompted the government to take action. In 2016, the Department of Consumer Affairs issued subpoenas to four baby monitor manufacturers as part of an investigation into the devices’ alleged security flaws.
Sometimes baby monitors don’t catch the creepy, but the bizarre. Take this incredibly acrobatic child, for example. His monitor captured him crying during the middle of the night, but his parents must not have heard him, because they never came in to check on him.
At some point in time, he must’ve gotten fed up with waiting because he decided to start climbing the railing of his crib and eventually stood up on top of it. He balanced there for about 20 seconds before he fell back into his crib—thankfully not face-first onto the floor.
As a couple watched television while their child slept soundly upstairs, they kept an occasional eye on the baby monitor to make sure everything was as it should be.
Because they saw nothing out of the ordinary going on upstairs, they went on with their night without hearing a peep from their baby.
It’s surprising when you consider that they found all of their upstairs doors and windows open when they finally decided to head to bed. Since they were upstairs, they didn’t think it was likely that someone had broken in, especially just to open a bunch of windows and doors. The most likely explanation?
One of the parents explained that the home originally belonged to his uncle and has a long history of ghostly activity. Thankfully, their child was unharmed, but you can bet they had some pretty unsettling sleep that night, and probably for the next few after that.
If you’ve got a video baby monitor, you’re not defenseless.
Parents can take a few key steps to reduce their chances of this type of attack.
“If you’re buying an internet-connected baby monitor, change the default password and become familiar with the security settings,” Carmitchel says. “Choose a secure password, and don’t assume that hackers would have a single point of access.”
“You’ll also need to secure your home wireless network, email accounts associated with the baby monitor, and anything else that might provide hackers with an opportunity.”
Most people don’t change their default wifi router settings, which can present a serious security issue. For instance, on a typical Netgear router, the default username is “admin” and the default password is “password.”
“If a hacker can figure out your wifi settings, they can probably access any device on your network,” Carmitchel says. “That’s especially true for Internet-of-Things devices like baby monitors.”
You could opt for a more lo-fi monitor that doesn’t connect through your router, but surprisingly, that doesn’t guarantee protection.
“Even if a monitor doesn’t connect to your home wifi, it could be accessible,” Carmitchel says. “Learn about the security features and make sure you’re using them correctly. Read the manual. Every level of protection drastically decreases your chances of a successful attack, because most hackers are going to go after the easiest targets they can find.”
One beneficial feature is frequency hopping spread spectrum. This technology allows a baby monitor to rapidly switch frequencies, decreasing (but not eliminating) the chances of hacking.
“Other than that, just pay attention to the small stuff,” Carmitchel says. “Turn monitors off when you’re not using them, and of course, make sure that kids can’t reach power cords.”
The good news: With a little bit of setup, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. Most security issues can be easily avoided, particularly if you’re willing to do some research before buying your baby monitor.
Unfortunately, we can’t give you any advice for avoiding the late-night willies. Seriously, if you see something like this at 3 a.m., you’re probably going to get a little freaked out. After all, at the end of the day, baby monitors are pretty creepy.