ASK DR. MIKE: Five Takeaways for Parents Regarding the Momo Challenge

ASK DR. MIKE: Five Takeaways for Parents Regarding the Momo Challenge

The “Momo Challenge,” first introduced via social media in 2017, became a world-wide phenomenon in 2018 after it was reported that a 12-year-old child in Indonesia committed suicide in response to it.  The challenge involves a wide eyed creepy creature that appears on screen and attempts to communicate with children through WhatsApp; those communications reportedly involve instructing children to do dangerous things including committing suicide.  In recent weeks, the image has reportedly entered YouTube and has intruded upon popular children’s video games and shows there — Minecraft, Fortnight and Peppa Pig.

While Momo is considered to be an Internet hoax, and while true self-harming and suicide cases have not been fully substantiated, I feel strongly that Momo is indeed an on-line viral threat to children that parents should take very seriously, and I recommend the following 5 takeaways:

  1. Parents should take Momo seriously with their children.  Hoax or not, younger children do not possess the intellectual (or emotional) capacity to understand or deal with Momo.  Younger children view the world and relationships in very black and white or concrete ways and are thus susceptible to being negatively influenced and misled. Younger children are also curious about and fascinated by gore, monsters and the macabre.  And while folklores, myths and urban legends like the Boogey Man, Bloody Mary and the Headless Horseman could be understood as socio-cultural communal evil archetypes and stories that have been told and retold and passed on for many generations between children, Momo is something much worse.
  2. Parents should be present for their children’s on-line viewing.  Given the threat of Momo, as well as all of the other possible inappropriate material and information a child could be exposed to on-line, I recommend that younger children not go on-line without parental supervision.  By being present, parents can both ensure that what their child is viewing is safe and age appropriate and they can discuss the themes and content of a game or a show with their child.  As I often tell parents, if your child still believes in Santa Claus, he or she is impressionable and likely needs you to be present when going on-line.
  3. Parents should also put controls in place for children’s technology.  Parental controls and software is available for all forms of our children’s technology – computers, tablets, smartphones, game counsels, etc.  There are even apps available that allow children to view only what a parent has previewed and allowed.  Due to the amount of inappropriate material available to children on-line, and the various means to access it, parental controls are a must.
  4. Parents  should review their children’s technology history.  Even when parents are actively present for their child’s technology use, there still may be times when children use technology on their own. Thus, I strongly recommend that parents review what their child has done, and is doing, on-line.  While parents should encourage and allow age appropriate independence for teens with on-line privacy being a part of that, it’s good parenting to check up on what younger children are looking at an engaging in on-line.  Parents should talk to their child about which sites or activities are appropriate and set clear boundaries for which ones are not.
  5. Parents should encourage their children to be open about their technology.  Younger children should know that if they view Momo, or any other disturbing or upsetting on-line material, they are expected to go straight to their parents to discuss what they’ve seen.  Having an open channel of communication with a younger child regarding technology – or really any meaningful or important topic for that matter — will both promote emotional security and set the foundation for later good decision making.