Background: The Momo challenge started in the summer of 2018 and has been linked to several social media platforms, such as YouTube, Minecraft, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Whatsapp. The scary photo associated to it is of a sculpture that was on display in a Tokyo gallery titled, “Mother Bird”. The gallery, artist, etc. are not associated with the Challenge.
The challenge spreads through Social media, often appearing midway through unrelated YouTube and YouTube Kids videos (Fortnite, Peppa Pig, etc.) to avoid adult detection. It has also appeared in some games (Minecraft, Roblox) through mods and in different social media apps. Users will see the creepy image of “Momo” and will be enticed to contact it through Whatsapp. If they do, they will be sent disturbing and scary images and given “orders” which are often to cause self- harm or even to attempt suicide. Users are threatened if they don’t follow through that they will be cursed, or their family will be hurt. Momo can also be linked to the theft of personal data, harassment, extortion, anxiety, depression and insomnia. As adults, the threat of a curse or something like this may not faze us but it can be terrifying to children. (Peel Children’s Safety Village, 2019)
Sadly, this isn’t the first ‘Suicide Challenge’ out there and it likely won’t be the last. As educators and/or parents, we want to know how to protect our children.
Some great reminders for parents and educators include:
1. Encourage critical thinking no matter what the age: Reports indicate very young children are being exposed to Momo. What we don’t know is exactly how many children have had Momo intrude on a program they were watching vs how many children are talking about it or have checked it out due to recent media attention. Regardless of the answer:
a. Tell them it’s not real: Just like any urban legend or horror story, the concept can be quite frightening and distressing for young people. Whilst this may seem obvious, it’s important for you to reiterate to the child that Momo is not a real person and cannot directly harm them. Also, tell the child to not go openly searching for this content online as it may only cause more distress.
b. Encourage parent-child interaction: It’s important for a parent or carer to be present while children are online. If students report they are online without supervision, discuss the importance of having a trusting adult around. Encourage the student to only go online when an adult is around and to talk to a trusted adult if they see something that doesn’t seem right.
c. Encourage good choices: It isn’t just Momo we should be worried about as caring adults. Access to violent, dangerous, inappropriate, scary content and cyber-bullying is everywhere online. Discuss what age appropriate content is with the students in your class and why it is important. Also, discuss how peer pressure can sometimes influence our choices and expose us to things that make us uncomfortable.
2. Offer facts to clarify misinformation: Use the background information provided above to help clarify how Momo might occur. Offering accurate information can go a long way with regards to easing any stress or speculation about being targeted by Momo.
3. Encourage healthy coping: Emphasize to students that it is normal to experience periods of stress and mental distress, especially if they’ve witnessed Momo or when it seems everyone is talking about something disturbing. Provide examples of some of the many healthy ways to cope with stress (e.g., engage in exercise, prayer, read a book, listen to music, talk with friends, teachers, parents, enjoy nature, etc.). Explicitly model self-care and healthy coping.
4. Encourage help seeking: Point out that no matter what, if something seems scary or doesn’t seem right, it’s important to talk to a trusted adult. Help students identify who those trusting adults are. They can include: a parent or carer, teacher, principal, priest, coach, counsellor, etc.
5. Re-establish routine when appropriate: If students appear concerned or pre-occupied with the Momo challenge, it’s important to give it the attention it deserves. We know students can’t learn when they’re stressed about something. However, it’s also important to gauge when enough time has been spent on the subject and it’s time to get back to school work. As an parent/educator, you will be able to tell when your student’s have been given enough information and are ready to get back to it! Know the topic may come up a few times throughout the day or even in the coming weeks. That’s ok. Give it some time and move on.
6. Access support if needed: Should we have students who are particularly struggling remember to communicate any concerns with the parent or caregiver and please feel free to talk to reach out to us at the school and we will put you in contact with a member of the Student Support Services Team.
Please see the attached doc. for online safety reminders that will assist our collective efforts to keep our children safe – thanks for your continued support!