·

The Momo Scare – Real or Fantasy – Why to Talk to Your Kids

what is momo should I worry

 

I’ve been reading and researching the Momo Challenge for five days.

 

Before Tuesday, I had never even heard of it. By Friday, a link came home in our middle school principal’s weekly update encouraging parents to educate themselves about it. And as of this weekend, “Momo” is trending on Google search engines in the United States, Australia, Canada, and Great Britain.

 

What is it?

 

An online “(Suicide) Challenge” that targets tweens and teens (and even younger children) to attempt increasingly dangerous stunts, ending in suicide via snippets in YouTube kids videos.

 

 

Momo first surfaced last year after it purportedly starting spreading via WhatsApp.

 

Countless news organizations and parent groups believed it to be a hoax.

 

However, in the last week, Momo has once again reared its (seriously) ugly head.

 

On Facebook and other social media platforms, parents are panicking. Momo showed up in Peppa the Pig! Momo is embedded in kid videos on Youtube! Via Instagram this week, Kim Kardashian warned parents about the so-called Momo Challenge and to monitor their children’s viewing activities. Momo is back.

 

Who is Momo?

 

Momo is personified as a long-haired doll with bulging eyes and a crazy smile who will send you messages, starting small but ultimately shaming you into following her orders (set your alarm for 4:15 A.M., and go turn on the oven!) with threats against you and your family unless you comply, escalating into harming yourself and others, possibly culminating in the final challenge of committing suicide.

 

She is a cropped image from a sculpture by artist Keisuke Aisawa that was displayed in an Special Effects art exhibit in Tokyo in 2016. The full sculpture shows a creature with bird legs and clawed feet, the artist’s interpretation of a Japanese folklore character named Ubume.  (If you’re really into random Momo trivia, there was a bigfoot “Momo” spotted in Missouri almost fifty years ago. The OG Momo Urban Legend)

 

Fact or Fiction?

 

Over the past few days, here’s what I’ve found…

 

First, most news outlets – from Fox to CNN – have denounced it as a viral hoax with little actual evidence to support the outcry.

 

Snopes says “yeah, probably not.”  

 

However, there are reports of lots of hackers enjoying the challenge of inserting Momo-imagery into multiple platforms to fuel the fire. So, yeah, there are Momos out there.

 

Folklore or not, kids are scared. Parents are freaked out.

 

My research also included social media posts – gone viral – written by moms whose kids are scared. And whether or not an actual “Suicide Challenge” is circulating, real kids are really scared. Real parents are really freaked out.  

 

How Scared and Concerned Should We Be?

 

Dr. Branley Bell, a cyberpsychology expert who specializes in the risks of online activities,  says that challenges like Momo make for good headlines because they are dramatic and shocking. The big fear, though, is that whether or not there is actually someone intentionally sending mass messages telling children to harm themselves (of which is there is no verifiable evidence), exposing vulnerable children with mental health issues to these ideas is dangerous business.   

Dr. Bell notes that suicide rarely can be attributed to one cause, and she argues that “our time and effort would be better spent concentrating on addressing the reasons behind the initial psychological vulnerability — whether that is low self-esteem, mental health issues, or environmental issues — rather than the online content.” Momo Challenge – Snopes

 

Real or Fabricated Momo Matters.

 

And so it didn’t take long for me to realize the Momo Challenge — real or fabricated — matters.

 

It matters that we stay vigilant.

It matters that we remember that we are the first generation to parent our children through the landscape of social media.

It matters that we monitor our own kids’ vulnerability.  

It matters that we educate ourselves and them about mental health issues.   

 

And, most of all, it matters that we give them the same messages that we so liberally covered them with as babies and toddlers and gap-toothed second graders:

 

We love you so much.

Our job is take care of you.

We are here to protect you.

We are here to listen.

You are our joy.

 

What We Can Do

Talk To Your Kids.

Stay Calm.

 

Ask your tweens and teens if they or their friends have encountered Momo.

Talk to them about what to do if they make sure they know what to do if they ever see disturbing, graphic, or harmful images.

With younger kids, even if you don’t bring up the actual challenge, use this opportunity to talk to them about what to do if they see or hear something scary or weird.

It’s also never a bad idea to use parental controls and to keep screens in public places.

Talk to your child about reality and fiction.

Talk about verifying information through various sources and the use of actual evidence.

 

Momo is a reminder of how important it is to intentionally take a break from our own social media to spend time with our (most-likely reluctant) teen.

 

Do something fun. Or boring, even. But just spend some non-screen time together.

 

Go over the internet rules for the hundredth time. Did you warn your three-year old to look both ways before crossing the street only ONE TIME? Of course not! We repeated it over and over and over and over, year after year, because we wanted to keep them safe.

 

Review digital safety over and over and over, year after year, because you want to keep your kids safe: Keep your personal information private. Don’t communicate with people you don’t know. Don’t post negative messages. Don’t send inappropriate pictures. And tell an adult if anything you read or see makes you uncomfortable. We repeat these rules because:

 

We love you so much.

Our job is take care of you.

We are here to protect you.

We are here to listen.

You are our joy

 

For me, the most difficult part of talking about the Momo Challenge (and other tough topics, running the gamut from razor blades in Halloween candy to sexual predators) is that it crushes a little bit more of the innocence of my children by reminding them that our world has some dark and messed-up people living among us. And -while I feel responsible to warn them against everything that could possibly hurt them (really, that fear could fill another dozen blog posts) – I am also responsible to not destroy their sense of optimism and love of life. I want my children to grow up to be savvy but not jaded; I want them to trust others but not be stupid. I want them to have open hearts and open eyes.

 

Interestingly, neither my high-school daughter nor any of her friends had heard of Momo. And when her sister told her about it and showed her Momo’s picture, she just raised her eyebrows and said, “Weird, but totally fake.”

 

Momo will fade away, just like other social-media trends, but some other nefarious story is lurking, ready to take its place. Let’s be prepared. Educate yourself by checking out the video here:  Smart Social for Parents.  

Arm your children to face what lies ahead by talking with them and listening to them. Teach them to ask questions and show them how to seek answers from multiple sources in their search to sift fact from fiction.

For ourselves, think twice before you share that unsubstantiated story that your aunt posted about the friend of a friend’s daughter. Don’t add to the mass hysteria before you educate yourself. It’s a confusing world out there.  

Let’s use the story of Momo to help guide our children to not believe everything they see on the internet – and to remember that powerful lesson ourselves.