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.