Can we please all stop freaking out about Momo now?
For those of you who don’t know, here’s a bit of background on The Momo Challenge. There’s a phone number circulating online that allows you to add the character Momo on WhatsApp where her scary big eyed, evil grin face can be seen ordering you to do dangerous things or she will kill you and your parents in the night. Freaky, right? It reminds me of ghost stories we used to tell each other back when I was at school, only this is more terrifying because it’s through a phone where you can see the evil person and, even worse, their threats seem more real as they are told to you via a voice or messages on your device, not just by hearsay in the playground. There is a lot of talk as the week has gone on that Momo is all a hoax, charities claim they’ve had no reports of self harm because of it and there have been no child/teen suicides linked to the game in the UK (allegedly).
The thing that has got all us parents in a panic though is the claim that Momo has made her way into kids YouTube, popping up unannounced in Peppa Pig videos and appearing in other videos aimed specifically at children. We’ve all been in a bit of a frenzy about it this week, sharing that creepy face all over our social media, warning other parents of the dangers of this killer game and terrifying each other to the point where we want to throw all our phones and iPads onto the floor and smash them up with a sledgehammer.
Is it time we all stopped freaking out though? I’m sure having this story continuing to circulate online is doing more harm than good. I saw something on Twitter yesterday that really pissed me off and upset me. A Mum and dad where trying to talk to their two young daughters about the dangers of talking to people online, it all seemed like a very mature conversation until the dad suddenly flashed his phone at the girls, showing them an enlarged photo of Momo. The girls were distraught, crying their eyes out while their parents and the person filming laughed hysterically. Oh lovely readers, I’m sure you’re more sensible than this, aren’t you? I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that the best way to educate your child about online safety isn’t to go traumatising them by showing them a photo of that gruesome face?
I have had to be strict with my social media use this week (never a bad thing really) and only look at Facebook when Leo’s not next to me. He’s not allowed on YouTube anyway so I know he’s not seen Momo before and I don’t want to be responsible for traumatising him if he happens to look over my shoulder and see that photo that has been shared all over my newsfeed.
This is the main point I’m getting to, I think we need to stop sharing content about Momo. Lots of the articles are based on zero fact and are just trying to get clicks, the more reliable sources are still insisting on using the Momo face as their featured image and there’s loads of fake/copycat Momo content doing the rounds now that’s just adding to the hysteria. I think after about a week of regurgitating the same content over social media, it’s time we stopped spreading the scaremongering and thought about how we can actually help our children to safely navigate YouTube/the internet instead. So, that’s what I’m doing. I’m going to stop freaking out, I’m going to stop despairing about the world my children are growing up in and I am going to start a conversation about online safety with my five year old. One thing is for absolute certain though, I will not be so stupid as to show him the photo and be the reason he wakes up because of the nightmares he’s bound to have for the rest of his life!
Common sense online safety advice for parents of young children
1. If the app has parental controls then use them. Make sure settings that allow your child to chat to other players are turned off and that they can only access the type of content you want them to see.
2. Use YouTube channels you trust. We are not living in a horror film, Momo can’t just appear in old videos. If you’ve watched a channel time and time again then Momo won’t suddenly be there now, unless the channel has been hacked then the existing videos can’t be edited to include Momo.
3. Check the videos first. If you’re worried, as I have been, watch through the videos quickly by dragging the red bar along the bottom, it gives a screen grab in a small preview screen so you can see if anything sinister is lurking. Once you’ve done this you can make a playlist where you know all the videos are safe.
4. Talk to your children about stranger danger online. We all make sure our kids know they shouldn’t go off with strangers in the real world or tell people they don’t know personal things about themselves and it needs to be the same when we are educating them about the online world. As for Momo, tell them if they ever see anything upsetting when watching a video or if they see something that doesn’t belong in that video that they are to pause it and to come and tell/show you straight away. Make sure they know that anything they see on their phone/tablet can’t ever hurt them even if it says it can. Tell them that if they want use of a tablet then they need to promise they will tell you what they’ve been doing on there and if anything has upset them. Just lay it all down simply and calmly, don’t make them so terrified they’ll never touch a piece of technology again but just make them aware there needs to be open communication between you if they want to be allowed online.
5. Supervise screen time. The only way you can be 100% sure of what your kids are watching is by sitting and supervising their screen time. I known sometimes us parents need a screen to babysit so we can have a cup of tea or do the dishes but shared screen time can be a good opportunity for some bonding. If you are with them and something bad comes up, you can quickly turn it off and talk to them about it without anyone getting scared or upset.
6. Use safe streaming apps. When in doubt, just use Netflix! I know it’s not free like YouTube but the small monthly fee is totally worth it for the peace of mind it gives us parents. Unlike YouTube, members of the public can’t upload videos of themselves doing and saying whatever they want to Netflix. The videos on Netflix kids are totally safe for your children to enjoy, there’s no way they can chat to anyone on there and when using the kids version they can’t click through onto any content only suitable for adults.
7. Don’t freak out. If you’re calm then your kids will be calm, if you’re a terrified mess then your kids will follow suit. Just try your best to get the important information across without going too far down into the creepy details. When used safely, screens aren’t so terrible but just make sure your child knows the rules and regularly check they are sticking to them. The best way to know they are not watching anything they shouldn’t be is to just have your safety approved apps (like Netflix, DisneyLife, CBeebies apps etc) and delete things like YouTube if you’re worried, just don’t make a massive deal about it. Repeat after me...don’t freak out!
Just like all viral content, this Momo thing will pass, I have only seen it shared twice on Facebook this morning so I already think it’s on its way out. Just talk to your kids and be vigilant. I can’t say either way if The Momo Challenge is a real thing or a hoax as I’ve not seen it. I also don’t know anyone whose kids have seen or played Momo and the only time I’ve seen it in a Peppa Pig video is when someone shared a clip on Twitter, this video was uploaded this week though after all the online hysteria so who knows if it’s the real thing or not. I’m not saying don’t make yourself aware but I think the whole online community and even the birds flying about outside are aware of Momo now, let’s stop sharing that creepy face and fuelling the fire.
After all, I read a very interesting thread that showed lots of children had never even heard of Momo until us parents, their schools, the police and the news started warning them about it and, guess what, they are now intrigued and seeking Momo out! Ahh, I despair. Let’s open up the online safety conversations for sure but can we please leave that creepy faced thing out of it now? She’s giving me nightmares and I’m 27!
Have you heard of The Momo Challenge? How do you talk to your children about online safety? Please share any tips and advice you have in the comments.
If you enjoyed this post you can find lots more content about being a parent, tips, advice and honest stories over in the parenting section of my blog.