If you are like me and have young children, you may have heard about the Momo Challenge. My 10-year-old son came home very upset from school today because apparently so many children were talking about it at school — and then late today we received a note from his school warning parents about the challenge. As my son was quite upset, and I was unfamiliar with the so called Momo callenge, I did some online research and very quickly uncovered this article by the Atlantic, titled “Momo is Not Trying to Kill Children: Like eating Tide Pods and snorting condoms, the Momo challenge is a viral hoax”. I thought I would share the link with you readers in case you also have young kids who might be concerned about this. My son feels much better after we discussed the fact that this is a hoax and calmed his nerves a bit. I explained to him that the scary photo that is circulating that is apparently the Momo, is actually a sculpture by Japanese artist Keisuke Aisawa for the Japanese special effects company Link Factory that makes horror film props and special effects. I showed him that the photo was borrowed in creating this urban legend. I won’t include the photo here, but you can Google it online – I can see how this would scare young children! Check out the Atlantic, It’s a short article that helps separate fact from fiction: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/02/momo-challenge-hoax/583825/
However, even if the Momo challenge is a hoax, the moral of the story here is to keep kids off YouTube and similar platforms. Taylor Lorenz, the author of the Atlantic article, makes a great point:
The problem is, these stories are only ever a distraction. They offer false reassurance and an easy fix to the wrong problem. If you can protect your child from the Momo challenge, the thinking goes, you can protect them from bad things on the internet. Unfortunately, maintaining kids’ safety online is a much more complicated and delicate task. “This whole ‘Momo is making kids commit suicide’ is a digital version of playing Beatles records backwards to hear Satanic messages,” says Ben Collins, a journalist who covers misinformation. “It does a real disservice to all the harmful stuff targeting children and teens on YouTube.”
What many parents miss is that the platforms themselves often perpetuate harm. Their automated moderation systems fail to flag inappropriate content. Their skewed content-recommendation algorithms promote extremist beliefs. They don’t protect kids against cyberbullying from peers, they milk kids under the age of 13 for money and engagement, and they promote truly gruesome content.
The internet is profoundly changing kids’ lives in ways that we have yet to understand, and it makes sense that parents want to keep their children safe. But “Momo” isn’t what they need protection from.
It’s a full-time job these days making sure our kids are safe online. We as parents can’t just assume that these platforms have the capability to keep content safe and appropriate for our kids. We as parents need to be responsible for filtering what they see and who they can come in contact with online . I recently installed the OurPact app that allows me a pretty incredible amount of control over my girls’ phones – remotely. So far I’ve been really happy with it and I recommend it. With the swipe of your finger you can remotely remove apps from your kids phones altogether and control screen time and use. Check it out. If you have any other great apps that you would like to suggest to other parents, post your comments below!