The Momo Challenge has been a hot topic of conversation in my office. Kids and parents a like are scared and are unsure of what to do. Whether or not you let your kids have social media, too many kids are finding out about this sick challenge from their peers in schools.
What is the Momo Challenge?
Real or not the Momo Challenge is popping up through social media apps and kids You Tube channels, and your kids are talking about it at school. Talking about it allows them to get correct information from you, their parents before they get incorrect information from their peers at school. Whether it’s real are not, kids are scared and kids are talking.
The Momo Challenge is an online challenge that targets teens, tweens and even younger children (via snippets in YouTube Kids videos). The challenge encourages kids to contact an unknown person called Momo (represented by a sculpture of a woman with a gaunt face, bulging eyes, and creepy smile) via WhatsApp or Facebook primarily.
The Momo account then sends them violent and graphic images and texts telling them to engage in various “challenges” that start out small and strange, then escalate to harming themselves and others, possibly culminating in the final challenge of committing suicide.
In order to prove they are completing the challenges, kids are supposed to send photographic or video evidence of them completing the tasks. If they ever try to stop, the Momo account threatens to expose them and/or harm them and their loved ones.
It is imperative to bring up the conversation even if your child doesn’t have social media accounts, they will learn or hear about it in school and you want them to feel safe with you to talk about scary things.
How to start the conversation:
1. Educate yourself on what it is.
Understanding how scary it is for an image to pop up on an app and ask a child to send photographs of them completing risky, self harming behaviors can help you empathize with your child’s fears.Validate their fear. Don’t expect that your child will think it’s ridiculous like adults do. Children do not have the same understanding of context and self regulation skills that adults do. Understand that this is scary for kids and that they need a safe place to talk about it. Know what it is, why it’s scary and validate the fact that it is even scarier for your child.
2. Don’t wait for your child to bring it up, talk to them now.
Children are not good at initiating conversations, much less, talking about something that is extremely scary. As parents, it’s our job to bring up the conversation. You can lead with something like, “There is a scary virus going around the internet and I have some facts to share with you.” Share facts about what it is, and what it asks kids to do. Make sure that you communicate to your child they are safe to talk to about it and will not be in trouble for telling you if they hear of it or see it. You and your child may need to even come up with a “safe word” if they see or hear about the Momo Challenge. This could be a word that you all agree on that when they say it, you know it was talked about in school or they saw it on the internet. This way your child doesn’t have to verbalize all the scary things they saw, but you can help them talk about their fears. Drawing or even playing it out with dolls could be another good medium for you and your child to talk about their fears. Children feel much safer using indirect ways of talking about their feelings such as drawing, playing it out with dolls or even using a safe word. When they are calm, you can lead them in the fact that they are safe.
3. Keep surprises not secrets.
Rumors surrounding Momo report that it tells kids not to tell their parents. Whether they have seen Momo or not, reinforce that you keep surprises, not secrets. If someone (no matter who or what it is) asks them to keep a secret from parents, that is a red flag that they need to talk to you. Let children know that you can keep surprises, i.e. birthday presents, and vacations, but secrets are never allowed. Keeping secrets teaches children that some information is not safe with you, and all information should be safe with you. Make sure that when they tell you information you are not dismissive or punishing. Children should feel safe to tell you any information without fear that they will get in trouble. If they are afraid they will get in trouble, chances are they won’t talk about it.
4. Set an intentional focused time to talk to your kids everyday.
Kids hear information all day at school, some of it can be scary and some of it they may not understand fully. Once you’ve established with your child that you are the safe place to talk about anything and everything, set a daily, intentional check in. You can lead this off with a question like “what was the most confusing thing you heard today?” When you answer this, you know they are getting the correct information from you and not bits and pieces of information from their peers. Let them know that some things are scary or hard to talk about but it’s only scary or hard until they have someone help them with the feelings about the information they are gathering all day. This also models how to process feelings at the end of every day.
Whether or not the Momo Challenge is a “real” threat to your child, there are many scary things in the world and kids need safe places to process their feelings. Kids won’t take the time to do this for themselves, they need you to slow down and guide them through processing feelings. Stay educated, be your Childs safe place to talk, and be intentional about bringing up hard and scary conversations.