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Momo Challenge was a wake-up call about online safety

In this week's Mom of the House, Brianna Bell is thankful her kids aren't sleepless over online scare
2019-03-08 Mom of the House
The Bell girls are spending more time playing and less time on electronic devices. Photo courtesy of Brianna Bell

The last week of February, families experienced the terrifying news surrounding the Momo Challenge that supposedly infiltrated YouTube. It might feel like old news, especially with the fast pace of the news cycle in the 21st century, but many parents and children are still experiencing the shock that came from the media coverage of this supposed challenge.

It started with the creepy image of a bug-eyed and terrifying horror sculpture created by Japanese artist Keisuka Aisawa. Various reputable news outlets began reporting that the Momo Challenge was a harmful video popping up in the middle of children’s videos on YouTube, urging children to harm themselves and threatening them not to tell their parents. Parents responded swiftly, removing YouTube apps from their phones and computers, and sitting down to discuss the dangers of the Momo Challenge with their children.

Within a few days, new reports were circulating that there was no Momo Challenge; it was a hoax that the media and parents believed and spread far and wide. Children were now traumatized by Momo, after the images and videos had spread and been viewed across nearly every media outlet. Some say that the false reporting led only to harm, while others say it opened up good discussion with kids about online safety.

We were one of those parents that swiftly removed YouTube from our devices after the initial reporting. We also sat down with our two older kids and talked to them about the importance of coming to us if they see something scary online, as well as discussed the importance of online safety. We were vague about the most recent YouTube threat, and our kids haven’t lost sleep or been too afraid since our discussion, however they’re also young and can’t fully comprehend the threats we were discussing. I have no doubt that if they accidentally came across an actual photo of the terrifying horror sculpture, we would have been experiencing sleepless nights and long conversations of reassurance.

One of the most important rules in our home is open communication; we remind our kids often that there are absolutely no secrets between us. We make sure that our kids know that we will never judge them for the questions they ask. We’ve also started talking to our kids about “Tricky People”, an important distinction from stranger danger. We believe that instead of having a conversation with our children that leaves them scared, it’s important to talk to our kids in a way that is empowering to them. Pattie Fitzgerald, founder of Safety Ever After created a really helpful Safety Tips page that we use as well.

There’s no doubt that the Momo Challenge caused real harm to families and children who were impacted by the images that they saw. I wish it didn’t take a horrifying photo of a creepy sculpture to alarm us enough to do something about our media usage. For us though, it was a wake-up call, even if it ended up being a false alarm.

Moving forward, our family will continue to monitor closely our media usage. Our kids are off YouTube, and we’ve already noticed the difference. Instead of watching videos of people playing with dolls, or making play dough sculptures, they’re spending hours at a time playing together with their own toys. It’s led to more creativity, more fun, and much sweeter memories in our home.