This Article is Not About Momo
It’s creepy. It’s alarming. And, by almost all reputable accounts, it’s a fake.
Most HD students are, by now, fairly familiar with the ubiquitous media image of a woman with bulging eyes, matted hair, and an “evil” grin associated with the so-called Momo challenge. Interestingly, most know about it only through news reports or conversations with their parents; so, there’s admittedly some danger of drawing attention to something by writing a response to it. Maybe the best way to approach it, then, is to focus on Momo as the latest example of a larger trend, and to open a conversation about the broader topic of social media trends.
There have been widespread reports that the image has been popping up on Youtube and on social media outlets like Instagram and WhatsApp as part of an online “game” or “challenge” which encourages children to engage in increasingly risky behaviors. Some reports indicate that the challenge coerces children into aggression, self-harm or suicide by suggesting that they will be “cursed” or that harm or danger will befall them or their loved ones if they don’t comply with the violent suggestions.
While the Momo character and the purported challenge are receiving lots of attention on mainstream news media and on parenting websites, there appears to be little to substantiate the widespread concern.
Despite allegations that disturbing images and messages are being targeted at and spliced into children’s programming and online content, there are actually very few substantiated reports of children and teens being exposed to the challenge or of young people engaging in risky behavior specifically linked to the challenge. In short, it’s largely a hoax, or, at least, a bit of a media frenzy.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous or harmful. These images and messages can be alarming; and, for some students, they may be particularly troubling or triggering. Certainly, the image itself may be haunting for younger children. Yet, perhaps the bigger story here is the bigger story – that this trend is really part of a much larger shift in our experience. Indeed, it seems like stories like this are an increasingly inescapable part of our social media reality.
Whether it’s something relatively innocuous like the ice-bucket or mannequin challenge, or whether it’s table diving, Momo, the Blue Whale, Slender Man or any other more dangerous social media trend, images and ideas can gain huge exposure before news outlets, schools and parents can catch up. And, while this one may be a hoax, we would never want any child to fall victim to similar, and potentially more sophisticated or sinister, phenomena.
So, perhaps it’s more important than ever to help our kids to be discerning and media savvy; and perhaps it’s more important than ever to have honest and open conversations with our kids about our engagement with mass media and social media. It’s hard to do this without sounding alarmist, without generating fear, and without throwing the baby out with the proverbial bath water; however, proactively connecting with children and teens about how we interact with cultural narrative can equip them with tools and strategies for when they inevitably encounter this type of content.
There are lots of great resources out there to help parents navigate these conversations with their kids. Like most things, it’s usually best to explore these issues when things are not elevated or escalated, and it’s usually best to think about equipping kids with media awareness in general, rather than identifying or responding to a specific trend.
We can’t (and don’t want to) monitor everything our kids encounter, and we really want young people to make good decisions for themselves. So, these conversations tend to be most effective when they are invitational (not confrontational), when they invite conversation about the student’s experience (rather than starting with the parents’ fears), and when they are collaborative and goal oriented (rather than punitive or directive). Finally, it’s important to recognize that kids, like all of us, sometimes mess up, and that it’s super important for kids to have a safe, loving and restorative place to fall.
The Canadian Government publishes a great guide on parenting for cyber safety. The guide suggests five guidelines, fleshed out in the document, for talking with children and teens about their online experiences:
- Don’t be scared!
- Talk to your kids.
- Be a part of your kids’ media lives.
- Be the person your kids come to when they have problems online.
- Set rules and communicate values.
Below is a partial list of other resources that a family could use to help frame conversations around social media. Feel free to add to the conversation by responding to the article or by adding your own suggestions for resources.
The Government of Canada publishes a comprehensive guide on cyber-safety and digital citizenship, downloadable as a PDF. The website offers some helpful tips on what you can say and how you can respond:
The Australian Gov’t has a helpful guide for parents and general online safety:
National Online Safety, a UK organization, published this useful PDF Momo-specific infographic last week:
ChildNet has some great suggestions for opening conversations with children and youth, including a list of suggested conversation starters:
Common Sense Media has lots of resources for families around a variety of topics:
Canada Safety Council – on line safety rules: