How to parent in the age of the Momo challenge

March 4, 2019

Over the last six months, waves of warnings have surfaced about a viral challenge that is instructing kids to harm themselves and take their lives. Within the last week, local news stations have covered the Momo Challenge, police and school systems are warning parents to be vigilant, and parents are trying to figure out how to protect their kids from such darkness online.

So what exactly is the Momo Challenge? Momo is a frightening sculpture created for a Japanese special-effects company. A video of the sculpture is reportedly found in WhatsApp and YouTube videos. In the videos, Momo tells the child to message them via the WhatsApp and then gives them instructions to inflict self-harm and kill themselves.

The Atlantic released an article this week debunking the Momo Challenge claiming that “YouTube confirmed that, contrary to press reports, it hasn’t seen any evidence of videos showing or promoting the ‘Momo challenge’ on its platform.” As a result of all the panic, Momo videos are now appearing as hoaxes. And yet, another article released this week by CBS News is claiming that this challenge was almost deadly for a family in California. This article and others warn that children who use the WhatsApp and some children’s YouTube videos, hosted on both YouTube and even YouTube Kids, are being exposed to Momo.

There is much debate about whether Momo has caused actual harm to children or whether this is an “over-publicized” hoax, but the publicized nature of the hoax could actually be making room for more harm as it is piquing the curiosity of the public. Kat Tremlett, a content manager at the UK Safer Internet Centre, was quoted in an article in The Guardian stating, “It’s a myth that is perpetuated into being some kind of reality.”

So what is a parent to do in the age of The Momo Challenge?

1. Choose wisdom over fear. The temptation is to read the news and then become consumed with protecting our children from every potential danger. Although it is our job as parents to create homes where our children can thrive and to protect them from harm, it is also our job as Christian parents to use wisdom, instead of fear, to guide our parenting practices. Perfect protection and absolute safety are not possible in this fallen world, but we don’t need to be paralyzed by fear.

2. Teach your children practical safeguards in regards to technology. We have seminars, books, and a variety of articles that teach our children how to interact with bullies at school, but we are now going to have to teach them how to interact with bullies and darkness online. If your child has access to a tablet, phone, or their own personal computer, it is important to teach them what to do when they see something scary, inappropriate, hateful, or that makes them uncomfortable.

Our rules for our home if they see something they shouldn’t or if they come across something that fits within the categories above are: (1) immediately turn it off, and (2) show and tell an adult. We try to remove the shame from these things by preemptively telling our children that they will be exposed to bad pictures or videos at some point, and there is no shame in coming to us with them. But we also want to give them the tools they need so they aren’t taken aback. Every school-aged child must be given these safeguards if we are going to allow them to interact with technology.

3. Set boundaries. There are a variety of tools available to both monitor and set boundaries for the use of technology in your home. But whatever tool you choose, remember that you, the parent, are the ultimate person in charge of what your children are able to access. Giving our children full access to technology without any supervision is unwise and dangerous. There are a variety of family decisions and rules you can follow, but a good basic start is to have access yourself (login and password) to every device, app, email that your child has. Also, set time limits, and consider adding additional safeguards in your home.

4. Don’t stick your head in the sand. Technology is ever-changing, and it can be difficult to keep up with every trend and popular app. But if your children are using an app and you don’t know what it is or how to use it, that’s a potential problem waiting to happen. Don’t stick your head in the sand. Stay up-to-date on the latest trends, like the Momo Challenge, and choose to be involved in your child’s online life. If your child likes a specific game or app, learn about it, or, better yet, learn how to use it. And if you notice a drastic change or negative behavior in your child, do some investigating, and get help right away.

Whether it’s Snapchat, WhatsApp, or creepy messages popping up in the middle of YouTube Kids videos, we, as Christians, must be ready to give our kids the tools to navigate the technological world they live in. We might not be able to shield our kids from every potential harm, but we can light their paths with wisdom for when they come across darkness online.

Brittany Salmon

Brittany Salmon is a professor, writer, and Bible teacher. She is the author of the book It Takes More than Love: A Christian Guide to Cross-Cultural Adoption releasing in April, 2022. She has an MA in Intercultural Studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, an M.A. in Teaching from NC State … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24