Cyber Safety & The Momo Challenge

Just to add to the daily challenges of parenting in the online world, in recent weeks it would have been hard to miss the social media frenzy that was the Momo challenge. The media stories, school and news warnings and accompanying images are enough to make any parent sick with worry. Let’s shed some light on the subject.

If you’re lucky enough not to have heard of the Momo Challenge it can be explained as a self-harm and suicide challenge. It was said to have found its way onto young people’s social media platforms, threatening them to complete a series of increasingly more dangerous self-harm tasks.  The first media report of its existence appeared early 2018 with stories of a teenager reported to have completed suicide after following a series of self-harm instructions that featured on her WhatsApp platform.

The eSafety Commissioner warns that there are videos online showing people “taking the Momo challenge”. It’s important to know that these videos are scripted, and staged performances being acted out with fake messages. They are, however, convincing and may scare young people into believing that Momo is a real thing. There have been media reports and concerns that images of Momo accompanied by voice overs have been spliced into existing children’s video content.

Fortunately, there is no evidence that any recent occurrence of this challenge exists and linked to any teen suicides, and no Australian cases have been reported. It has now been widely reported and exposed as a hoax.  Cyber safety and IT experts in Australia have agreed with this and claim they haven’t come across any children who have been involved with the challenge. YouTube have also said there have been no recent videos uploaded with the Momo character in it.  Please remember this doesn’t mean YouTube is safe for children, moderators struggle to keep up with the sheer volume of uploads, and disturbing videos, spliced into what appears to be an innocent video can find their way in.

Whilst the video challenge discussed may not be genuine, the images that can be found online when simply typing the word Momo in the search bar can be very distressing for children and parents to see. The image itself is believed to be a Japanese sculpture that is completely unrelated to this challenge and the artist has reported that it has now been destroyed. If your child is talking about Momo it’s most likely the image they have seen after curiously running a google search.

If your child has been fortunate enough to have missed all the Momo hype, then it is not necessary to warn them about it by introducing it to them. Breathe a sigh of relief and thank your lucky stars, but don’t go resting on your laurels just yet. This is not the first type of frightening online scam to challenge our young people, and it won’t be the last. Use it as a timely reminder to revisit some family online safety guidelines, equip your family with skills to both protect and prepare them for the next challenge.

Tips To Keep Them Safe Online

  • Talk to your children often, asking questions about what they see and do on their games and platforms
  • Have conversations about the risks of searching for things online and put guidelines in place around safe searching
  • Talk about what to do if something is discovered online that makes them feel worried, scared or uncomfortable and put a plan in place.
  • Remind children that you are there to support them should they see anything online that makes them feel scared, worried or uncomfortable. Remind them that they are not in trouble if they do discover something accidentally, or even on purpose. In instances where a child has seen something disturbing, often a parent’s normal gut reaction is to take the device away, depending on their age, this could isolate them from their online world and prevent them from telling you next time something untoward appears on their screen.
  • Monitor closely what children are doing online. Ensure that any online activity is taking place in a common place in the house and not in bedrooms or private places where children find themselves alone.
  • Check safety settings on all family devices and enable Google safe search (but keep in mind this is not failsafe)
  • Have a family conversation about the risks of talking to strangers online and not accepting friend requests or sharing personal information through gaming and social media platforms with people they have never met before
  • Remember Youtube is not for under 13’s, and if you do choose to set up a kids movie, TV series or video clip for their viewing, it’s important to watch it first or watch it with them to ensure that it is safe.
  • Discuss with your children that not everything they see online is real or true, there are actors, photoshopping and digital tricks used to make things appear very real. Find examples of where these are used for suitable age appropriate fun.

As an experienced Teacher and Counsellor, Danielle has a special interest in the wellbeing of children and working with families. Through her 25 years of experience working in education settings; teaching, counselling, and delivering quality wellbeing programs to students of all ages, Danielle has found a passion for providing safe online environments for all children and identified a need for cyber safety education and support for families, schools and communities.

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