Hoax or Not, the MOMO Challenge is an Opportunity to Teach Our Kids Online Safety
In recent months a viral social media challenge has resurfaced, giving rise to some anxiety and and fear among members of our school community. The purpose of this communication is to explain what the MOMO Challenge is, who is at risk, and how the challenge works.
- What is the MOMO Challenge?
This unsubstantiated, yet nonetheless at first glance frightening social media "challenge" appears with an unforgettable, somewhat horrifying picture of a statue of a bird (that looks like a girl) and allegedly encourages kids to perform increasingly risky and harmful tasks, including hurting themselves. It's origins can be traced back to an art exhibition held in Japan three years ago, which included an artifact called "Mother Bird". The image can pop up in a variety of places but seems to center around Whatsapp, where a user is sent a link to click on. It's not new but resurfaces occasionally. Though some articles mention reports of kids actually harming or killing themselves as a result of the challenge, they are unsubstantiated. Some reports indicate it's actually a way for hackers to get access to devices, which poses a whole separate set of risks, mostly for parents actually.
- Are our children safe?
Though some articles mention reports of kids actually harming or killing themselves as a result of the challenge, they are unsubstantiated. Some reports indicate it's actually a way for hackers to get access to devices, which poses a whole separate set of risks.
- What's the real danger?
The real danger is that well-intentioned people (adults mostly) are sharing social media posts about unsubstantiated viral topics without checking for accuracy or validity. In doing so, we also by extension are likely to be missing opportunities to teach our children good online practices.
- How does SAS respond in our classrooms?
Our focus has always of course been multi-faceted, but is comprised of the following main three strategies:
- The school sets up appropriate, and regularly reviewed technology policies that include Safe Search settings local to devices, tiered web filtering policies, cyber-security software, and we are able to monitor all apps installed on all devices, and percentage time accessed on each individual device. Ubiquitous apps such as WhatsApp are forbidden on any device accessed by students.
- We teach our children how to be safe online. Digital Citizenship is an important component of your child's education and is a shared responsibility of our Librarians, Counsellors, Technology Coaches, and Classroom teachers. These lessons encompass topics such as interacting with strangers, to click-bait. Both relevant to the 'MOMO Challenge'.
- We take an interest in what our students are interested in, and the types of sites they are interested in visiting.
- Advice for Parents
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 okay.
Parents can play a really important role in not spreading the hoax. This particular hoax of course plays very directly with parent's fears: namely child safety. When these fears are circulated in a trusted forum, such as among a parent group, they can quickly spread because the group itself acts as a vetting process in itself. When combined: these factors make the viral story become more real.
Remember too 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.
Further reading and our sources: