Editor’s Note: This blog post includes disturbing content and mentions of suicide.
Internet challenges have been going on for years. They can be fun and harmless, or they can be dim-witted and even deadly. The latest challenge referred to as the Momo challenge seemingly hits a whole new level of creepy but experts say there’s little evidence the challenge is real.
What Is It?
To participate in the alleged challenge players using various apps or games are purportedly urged by a pop-up image of “Momo” to hurt themselves or others to avoid being cursed by the creature. (The creepy image of Momo is reportedly a half-girl-half-bird sculpture created by a Japanese artist unrelated to the game). Rumors allege the game ends with Momo encouraging participants to take their own lives and record it for social media.
Real or rumor?
Is the challenge real or a hoax? While several youth suicides around the world are rumored to be tied to the Momo game, none of the connections have been proven, according to both the Washington Post, Snopes, and other news sources.
Rumored or reality, one thing is for certain: The viral Momo story is creating a genuine panic and perceived threat among parents that requires an equally strategic response.
With devices in the hands of most kids by the time they are 10, the viral Momo challenge offers all of us a chance to stop, think, and connect with our kids specifically about digital content, peer pressure, and the danger of online challenges.
Talking Points for Families
Be hands-on. This story, while considered an internet myth, represents an opportunity to get even more hands-on with your digital parenting efforts. As silly, viral challenges like Momo arise (and there will be more), resolve to routinely monitor the content your kids engage with online. This includes apps, YouTube content, video games, TV shows online, and chat apps. Feel overwhelmed with monitoring? Consider getting a software program to be your eyes and ears online and help filter out risky content.
Get proactive. Depending on the age of your child, chances are if they’ve heard about the Momo game or seen the image, they could be frightened. Talk about the dangers of peer pressure, bullying, and online challenges. Make sure the conversation is two-way and includes your child’s experiences and thoughts on the topic. Ask your child to come to you immediately if anyone or anything online ever makes them feel unsafe, afraid, or provoked.
Stay informed. Risky digital behaviors that affect kids, tweens, and teens make the headlines each week. Any parent in the know will tell you candidly that staying informed about online risk is a part-time job attached to parenting. Read blogs, set google alerts, listen to podcasts, and connect with experts online to stay informed. Other dangerous online challenges include the Bird Box Challenge and several others.
Encourage critical thinking. If your child blows off the potential seriousness of online stunts or games, encourage him or her to think a behavior through. Ask them: “Walk through each step of the stunt and tell me where you think things could go wrong.” This will help your child personally determine if an activity is risky or not.
Know Those Apps! One of the biggest threats to a child’s online safety is his or her choice in apps. Apps run the gamut of risk and range from educational and uplifting to inappropriate and dangerous. Go on your child’s phone regularly and check for risky apps. Google the app and read app reviews. Look at age restrictions and customer reviews so you will be better equipped to evaluate whether an app may be suitable for your child. Dangerous apps include Kik Messenger, Ask.Fm, Tumblr, and any other social network that allows anonymous users.
Monitor online communities. Your kids have friends they bring home, but they also have friends online you will never meet face to face. Dig in and get curious. Look for apps such as WhatsApp or Kik that allow kids to chat with anyone, anywhere. Ask your kids to show you where they spend their time and the kind of people they choose to talk with. Remember: The direct message feature on favorite apps like Instagram and Snapchat are also ways kids connect with peers online.
The contour of our digital life evolves and expands every day. And, unfortunately, along with that growth will come people who attempt to cause harm or plant fear just for sport. Rather than respond with fear, consider approaching risks with a fresh determination to equip your family with the knowledge and tools it needs to thrive and stay safe in this ever-changing digital terrain.
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