This article was contributed by Parent Zone

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Don’t focus on the so-called ‘Momo Challenge’: educate children about online safety

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The so-called Momo challenge understandably caused many parents concern, even though it turned out to be a hoax.

Thankfully there is no evidence of direct harm caused to any child, but that doesn’t reduce the worry and confusion for parents. Here we answer some of the questions that you may have and offer some advice on how to talk to your child about hoax challenges.

What is the Momo Challenge hoax?

The Momo character — a disfigured face attached to a bird’s body — was, in fact, a prop named ‘Mother Bird’ made in Japan three years ago for an art exhibition. This is a disturbing image that could easily upset or worry a younger child. It was reported that the Momo character asked would-be participants to contact ‘her’ on WhatsApp and do a series of challenges — the final challenge being suicide. It turns out that this wasn’t happening, but the image of the character spread because people use it in their profiles, and shared stories about it, causing widespread alarm. Of course, the image itself can be upsetting and scary for some children. 

How do children get to know about it?

There was a lot of coverage about the ‘challenge’ in the media and children picked up on this. It’s understandable that online challenges like this may make many children very curious, leading them to explore it further - the hype around these crazes often leads children to investigate for themselves.

Why would my child be drawn to it?

There are lots of reasons for children to be drawn towards these kinds of online challenges - the drama can be exciting especially when a popular influencer or gamer is talking about it. Some children may just be curious as to what all the fuss is about and it may be a talking point at school or within a group of friends.

Our advice

Although there is no evidence of serious harm to children, the upset caused when a child sees a disturbing image or hears about something that sounds frightening can be worrying for parents. This hoax online challenge offers a valuable opportunity to talk to your child about online safety. 

Top tips to help you with the conversation:

  • Try to follow their lead — in this case, introducing the idea of the so-called Momo challenge to your child, if they’re not already familiar with it, might just lead them to become more curious and investigate for themselves.
  • Start by asking your child a general question about whether they have seen anything online that upset or worried them. Explain that there are often things that happen online that can be misleading or frightening and that some things are designed to get a lot of attention.

  • If your child does know about it, take their concerns seriously. Reassure them that it’s not real and has been put online to try to frighten people. Talk to them about what they should do if they see anything scary online, such as reporting to the platform or speaking to you.
  • Use this as an opportunity to make sure that they know that contacting strangers and doing anything at all that they are asked to do online or off that makes them feel scared, worried or uncomfortable is not OK.

  • Remember that curiosity is a natural part of growing up so don’t blame them for being drawn to this sort of digital drama. Try to listen, keep calm and help them to recognise that however tempting these things may be to explore, if they are worried about something it’s better to speak to someone they trust rather than investigate for themselves.

  • You may be understandably upset, angry or worried if you hear your child has been involved in the challenge. It is important to make sure your child knows that it’s important for them to share any unpleasant experiences they have online with you or another trusted adult so that they can get help to recover.
Supervise your child when they are online so you are aware of what platforms they are using and what they are seeing.
  • Teach your child to be a critical consumer. There are some great tools online that help children to spot fact from fiction, such as the CBBC real or fake news quiz.
  • It’s a good opportunity to ensure that your child has enabled any privacy settings on the apps they use as well as having live locations settings turned off.
  • Parents of younger children may want to install YouTube Kids, a more controlled version of YouTube intended for families, for better control of what young children come across online.

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP.

Updated: March 2019


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