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Three-Minute Briefing: The Momo Challenge

Even though it turned out to be a hoax, the so-called 'Momo challenge' understandably caused many parents concern. Thankfully there is no verified evidence that this ‘challenge’ was real or that it caused harm to children. Despite this, it is clear that the concept of this hoax challenge has been causing distress among parents and children.

What is the so-called Momo Challenge?

The Momo character — the 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. Its sinister stretched features make for a disturbing image that could easily upset or worry a younger child. It was claimed that the Momo challenge was ‘played’ over WhatsApp. The Momo character allegedly asked would-be participants to contact ‘her’ and do a series of challenges — the final challenge being suicide. Of course, there isn’t much evidence of a child actually being harmed but what seems to be happening is that the disturbing image is spreading because people are using the image in their profiles.

How do children get to know about it?

Children are hearing about the challenge through numerous sources online — the coverage that is happening in the news and on social media is also leading to old fashioned playground curiosity. It’s important to remember that the hype around these crazes, true or not, often leads children to investigate for themselves even if they haven’t had direct contact.

Why would children be drawn to it?

There are lots of reasons for children to be drawn towards these challenges even ones that subsequently turn out to be nothing more than urban myth. The drama can be enticing especially when a popular Influencer or gamer is talking about it online.

What should parents do?

Although the Momo challenge is now being reported as a hoax, the reports, warnings and disturbing images could still cause distress to children. It’s important that parents talk to their children about it. The best way to start is to ask 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.

Parents need to follow their child’s lead — introducing a worrying subject to a child who isn’t familiar with it might lead them to investigate. On the other hand, avoiding mentioning it won’t provide a chance for a good discussion. Take your child’s lead and whatever you decide about overtly talking about these kinds of topics, 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, it’s never sensible to be drawn in.

Parents of younger children may also want to install YouTube Kids, a more controlled version of YouTube intended for families, for better control of what young children may come across online.

 

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