Fear of the ‘Momo Challenge’ is rising amid unsubstantiated warnings that the so-called ‘suicide game’ could appear in the middle of programmes like Peppa Pig on YouTube Kids.
While YouTube insists it has not received “any recent evidence” about the existence or promotion of the disturbing ‘game’ – which is characterised by the image of a black-haired, bug-eyed woman with grotesquely-distorted features –reports are growing that sites used to watch kids’ TV are being hacked.
And while these are most likely based on rumour, rather than fact, it hasn’t stopped schools from warning parents to talk to their children about the alleged existence of such ‘games’ encouraging young people to hurt themselves – and each other.
Whispers about these types of ‘games’ sweep the globe regularly, alongside scaremongering images, warnings, and links to reported deaths. We’ve all heard of ‘Slender Man’ and the ‘Blue Whale Challenge’ – fictional characters linked to stabbings, self-harm and suicide. They can present a bit like old-fashioned ‘chain letters’, only with a cyber-bully twist – and it can be hard to know whether they’re real, where they come from and what to do about it.
‘Momo’ first came to light last summer, after being supposedly linked to a number of deaths in Argentina, Columbia and India. These links have never been proven, but the ‘game’ – which is purportedly played on social messaging platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp, and relies on a user messaging an unknown number and receiving increasingly dangerous tasks – hit the headlines again recently after a seven-year-old told school friends the ‘Momo’ character would “kill them”.
The child’s teacher alerted his parents after the boy “made threats” to other children at a primary school in Westhoughton, Bolton, according to the Manchester Evening News.
The mum of the seven-year-old then posted a warning to the local ‘Love Westhoughton’ Facebook group (the post has since been removed), in which she said she was “deeply alarmed” to find out her son had made three children cry by telling them ‘Momo’ was going to “go into their room at night and kill them”. She said he had been told about the challenge by other children.
“I have one very frightened little boy and some deep concerns about the kids in his school,” she said. “Parent controls are as tight as can be and this still slips through.” The mum, who didn’t want to be identified according to the newspaper, advised other parents to talk to their children to “open up a dialogue about idiots online and try to get ahead of this”.
According to The Sun, the ‘Momo’ avatar was originally created by a Japanese special effects company called Link Factory, without any links to online games – and was on display in a Tokyo fetish museum in 2016.
If you’re a parent, you’ll undoubtedly worry about the effects of the rumours about ‘Momo’. And whether it’s real or not, it can still be extremely scary for your kids. So, what do you do about it? Here are six ideas:
Do Your Research
According to Adele Jennings, who writes the Our Family Life blog, which has been shared by the website Internet Matters, online games and social media companies need to do more, but as parents we have to “find out and learn more about what our children are getting up to while online”. So, do your research, as much as you are able. Find out what your child is looking at, and judge for yourself if it’s appropriate.
Talk To Your Child
“Only by talking to them, and knowing how to block and report inappropriate content can we start to make a difference, but we have to do our homework,” Jennings writes. If you’re struggling to work out how to have that conversation, look at Thinkuknow. The website is connected to police and CEOP and offers advice that’s targeted appropriately to the age of your child.
Take Them Seriously
If your child is scared, it can be counterproductive to dismiss those fears and risk invalidating their feelings. It doesn’t matter if the fear is real or proportionate, if it’s scaring your child, it’s worth listening – really listening. And sometimes, if they feel heard, they’ll feel better. CforCat – a platform dedicated to early childhood development – advises acknowledging their feelings, giving them permission to feel that way and inviting them to discuss what they’re thinking about.
It can be hard keeping up with which app, game or social messaging service your kids are using. If you want the latest on the latest technology, consider checking out parentzone – the experts on family digital life. There are sections ranging from explaining the game Fortnite, to what game age ratings really mean and how to achieve a digital detox.
Make Informed Decisions
If you care about gender stereotyping, or want to weed out content that depicts violence or bad language, check out Common Sense Media. It watches online media and content for you, and provides advice, reviews and trigger warnings.