Protecting Kids From The Momo Challenge
Recently, the media has been reporting that 2018’s online Momo challenge has resurfaced. They talk about children encountering it in seemingly innocent YouTube videos. Originating on WhatsApp, the reemergence of the scary social media game has prompted schools and police stations to issue warnings about the challenge so that parents can discuss it with their kids.
What Is The Momo Challenge?
The Momo figure was actually a sculpture called “Mother Bird”. It was created by Japanese artist, Keisuke Aisawa. The sculpture featured a wraith-like figure with bulging eyes and long, stringy hair. To date, no evidence suggests that the artist or his special effects company had anything to do with the Momo challenge and the sculpture has since been destroyed.
Reports say that when the game first started, children were contacted to participate in the Momo challenge through their interaction with WhatsApp. More recently, however, the media is warning that the figure has apparently been popping up in Peppa Pig or Fortnight YouTube videos.
When a child participates in the game, they are actually interacting with someone who tells them to perform certain tasks to avoid being “cursed.” Reportedly, these assignments often require the child to do something harmful to themselves or others. They might be told to take pills or stab or otherwise hurt someone. The tasks even go as far as telling the child to take their own life.
The Momo figure asks the child to prove they have completed a task by providing a photograph of themselves while engaged in the assignment. To advance through the game, the child must show this proof. At the end of the game, the child’s final assignment is to commit suicide while recording it for social media.
Is The Momo Challenge A Hoax Or A Real Thing?
When the Momo game initially came out on social media, critics were quick to dismiss it as a hoax. While there have been a few child suicides that were thought to have been a result of the challenge, there has never been any definitive proof linking them to the game.
Additionally, it is difficult to find online images of kids participating in the game. Doubters think that if the challenge was real, there would be many more social media pictures of Momo collaborations.
ReignBot, a YouTuber who is famous for videos that explore creepy things on the Internet says, “Finding screenshots of interactions with Momo is nearly impossible and you’d think there’d be more for such a supposedly widespread thing.”
Often, the warnings about dangerous online challenges spread farther and faster than the actual game. That said, it is potentially dangerous for a child who is vulnerable to self-esteem and other psychological issues to be exposed to something that could be harmful.
Talking To Your Kids About Momo
Regardless of whether the game is real, experts agree that parents need to address the topic with their children preemptively. Dr. Ryan Seidman, a child and adolescent psychologist and the Clinical Director at our Children’s Center, says parents should warn their kids about these online challenges.
“Discuss with younger children what to do if they see the face,” she advises. You might start by asking the child if they have heard of Momo, then tell them to get a parent or other adult if something scary or threatening ever pops up on an app or video.
For teens and adolescents who want more independence, it’s good to have periodic discussions about online encounters, as well as anything in their lives that is frightening or threatening to them.
Encourage your kids to tell you if they are being bullied (by the way, Momo is a form of cyber-bullying). Be sure they understand that you are trusting them to let you know.
Self Harm And Suicide – Who Is At Risk From The Momo Challenge?
It’s unlikely that an online challenge would affect a psychologically healthy child, but it could push kids who self harm or who are contemplating suicide to act on their thoughts.
Self harm isn’t restricted to a certain age group or race, or to someone with a certain socioeconomic or educational background. Anyone may engage in self harm, but the behavior happens most often in teens and young adults.
Self harm happens most frequently in:
- People who have difficulty expressing their emotions
- Those individuals who have a background of childhood trauma, such as physical, verbal, or sexual abuse
- People who don’t have a strong social support network. Conversely, we know it happens more often in those who have friends who also self harm
- Those who also have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, or in those who engage in substance abuse
Keep in mind that suicide is the result of a mental illness. People who are vulnerable to online cyber-bullying and content like the Momo challenge are often already suffering from mental health issues, such as low self esteem, anxiety, or depression.
As mentioned above, the Momo game is thought to have led to several teen suicides last year, although the link hasn’t been proven.
Suicide is the second leading cause of teen deaths, but could a dangerous challenge increase risky behavior in an susceptible teen?
Madelyn S. Gould, Ph.D., a psychiatrist at Columbia University, thinks so. She says, “The magnitude of the increase [in the number of suicides] is proportional to the amount, duration, and prominence of media coverage. We know from a number of studies that the celebrity status of a suicide victim increases the impact of the suicide.”
Add to that the feeling of being alone in their pain and it’s possible a challenge could push a distressed teen over the edge.
Adolescents and teens who are considering suicide usually give unmistakable warning signs:
- Making jokes about dying or about suicide
- Sharing feelings of self-contempt or worthlessness, or talk about feeling hopeless and unsure they will ever being happy again
- Giving away possessions they used to care a lot about, such as favorite clothes or mementos
- Losing interest in activities or relationships they used to enjoy
- Talking a lot about the suicide of someone important (or may have recently lost someone close to them)
- Isolating themselves
- Might have insomnia or may over-sleep, may be lethargic
- May exhibit extreme mood swings or have violent outbursts of grief or anger
- An increase in drug or alcohol use
- Indulging in risky behavior, especially if this is not characteristic of the person
Your child needs to know you are taking them seriously and that you care about them. If you are concerned that they are exhibiting some of these signs, ask the child directly if they are considering suicide (or have someone else they trust ask them). Be assured that it is okay to use the word “suicide” – saying the word will not raise the chance that they will act on the idea.
If your child admits that they are considering suicide, be empathetic about their feelings – don’t judge them. Seek help from a mental health professional, from your child’s pediatrician, or from a suicide crisis hotline. The crisis hotline is especially critical if you think your child is in imminent danger of attempting suicide.