A kid sees something on the Internet. That kid shows his mom. Mom posts this horrifying thing on the Internet and warns parents about a new “challenge” that is causing kids to commit suicide.
Thousands of shares, dozens of local news reports, and millions of comments later… it’s once again revealed to be another hoax.
This time, it’s “The Momo Challenge.” The above image is reportedly hacked into a video on YouTube, or even some kid-friendly variation of the site you can find on any smartphone or tablet. A child-like voice calls out “Momo is going to kill you” and the child is eventually led through a series of destructive tasks that ultimately end in suicide.
It’s a horrifying thought if you’re a parent. My oldest (7) loves her tablet and could probably get lost in the kids version of YouTube for days if we didn’t have a time limit set on it. What’s just as bad is being a teacher, which is also a thing I do, and I teach and interact with well over 200 kids per day.
Thankfully, or perhaps just as horrifyingly, it’s all a hoax.
“Momo” actually isn’t new. The creepy face belongs to a Japanese sculpture called “Mother Bird.” The reports of kids interacting with “Momo” and performing the sick, twisted tasks don’t appear to be verifiable. There are no official reports of children who have hurt or killed themselves due to this viral “game.”
It began a few years ago when kids in the UK were allegedly coming across an account claiming to be “Momo” on WhatsApp, a Facebook-owned messaging service. From there, the kids would be guided through the tasks in order to avoid being “cursed.” The final task in the so-called game was suicide.
However, the resurgence of The Momo Challenge is just as real as some of the other viral hoaxes from years past.
For parents today, it can seem that the internet has endless ways of trying to kill your children or persuading your children to kill themselves. The so-called Blue Whale challenge supposedly asked kids to complete a series of tasks that culminated in suicide. The trend later turned out to be a hoax. Local news has warned about recent “crazes” like teens eating toxic Tide Pods (they weren’t), or potentially choking to death while snorting condoms for YouTube views (no deaths have been reported). Even the cinnamon challenge could supposedly kill you.
All of these challenges and trends follow the same formula: A local news station runs a piece overstating a dangerous teen trend. Concerned parents flock to social media to spread the word. Actual teenagers and anyone else who lives their life Extremely Online mock them for their naïveté. Brands and influencers hop on the trend, parodying it and exploiting it for their own gain. And trolls take advantage of those who believe it’s real, often by creating and posting content that seemingly confirms parents’ worst fears. SNL brilliantly parodied this cycle in 2010. Since then, it has only gotten worse.
That, of course, doesn’t mean the Internet is safe. The fact that this gets around and does, in fact, scare kids, as well as parents, means that parents have to be more involved with what their kids are doing online.
I don’t mean you need to be helicopter parenting their Internet usage. The older kids will respond better to some levels of trust. But, just having online monitoring or pre-programmed times for their access to shut off. You need to actually talk to your kids and explain what is out there.
If anything, “Momo” is a symptom of online bullying culture, and cyberbullying has to be a topic you address with your kids. There are kids who are being taunted into doing terrible things by people who want nothing more than to cause hurt. You need eyes on their social media, you need to talk with them, and you need to be sure they know the Internet is only as dangerous as they allow it to be.