Have you ever set your child up on the couch with an iPad to watch a harmless YouTube video, like Peppa Pig, surprise eggs or Minecraft while you tried to get dinner ready? Or, have you given in to allowing your little one to play one more game of Fortnite? We’ve all been there – letting screen time act as a babysitter in a pinch, or as a reward for good behavior.
But now, parents are being warned to monitor their children more than ever before, with the resurgence of social media frenzy warning of a horrific looking character with big eyes, long black hair and the body of a bird, named “Momo,” with disturbing messages for kids (reports of “Momo” first surfaced in 2017).
Dubbed the “Momo Challenge,” the person or people masquerading as “Momo” encourages kids to text a number on WhatsApp, which then sends them instructions to complete a series of harmful challenges, such as taking pills, turning the oven on at night and reportedly committing suicide. In the same vein of “Slender Man,” and “Blue Whale,” it is terrifying young viewers, as they are told if they do not oblige and provide photo evidence of the completed tasks, they will be cursed.
While YouTube, Facebook and a number of other sites are actively taking steps to remove this unauthorized content from their platform’s algorithm, what can parents do in the meantime to protect their children?
Talk to your child about the Momo Challenge and any internet hoaxes
Have an honest conversation with your child about the dangers of internet hoaxes. Ask your child if they’ve heard of it, and encourage them to tell you right away if they or someone they know become exposed to it. Don’t encourage them to look it up.
Update privacy settings on electronic devices
Update all privacy settings on every electronic device in your home, including your own cell phone. Make sure all content that you allow your kids to watch is age-suitable and that everything is private. Block the installation of all apps (or password protect installation) such as WhatsApp, which is said to activate the Momo Challenge.
Teach your child about Internet safety
Use this as an opportunity to school your child in Internet safety. While updating privacy settings is a smart thing to do, it isn’t fool-proof, as this content is slipping past filters because it specifically targets programs kids watch. Remind your child to use screens as a one-way interaction and to never share personal information. Make sure they understand that no one can tell them what to do or make them do anything they do not want to do.
Supervise screen time
We know it’s nearly impossible to look over your child’s shoulder every minute they engage with screens, but check in regularly so you know what content they are viewing. Consider banning the Internet from screen time, and limiting it to movies or TV shows that can be downloaded from reputable sources, like Netflix, your cable provider or iTunes.