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My kids had a letter sent home from their school principal a few weeks ago, which discussed something called the “Momo Challenge.” After reading the letter, I did what most parents do when the safety of their children is apparently at stake: I freaked out, and then hovered over them whenever they were online – which forced me to watch quite a few episodes of “Larva Island” on Netflix.
But, of course, that’s not the right way to go about these things. Like many other things in life, the best approach is to inform yourself and then communicate in an open manner with your kids. So, using the Momo Challenge as the starting point, I’d like to tell you about some of the great websites I’ve found out there that deal with Internet safety.
First, though, a brief explanation of the Momo Challenge, for those of you who have not heard of it. The challenge is name after “Momo,” a scary-looking image of a girl that looks like a cross between something out of a Stephen King novel with something out of a Tim Burton stop-action movie. This Momo character will pop up while you’re using WhatsApp or YouTube, or similar social platforms, and will say that, unless you hurt yourself, Momo will hurt a member of your family. All in all, this is decidedly creepy in itself, but what makes it worse is that apparently children were quite susceptible to this challenge. There were even reports that a young girl in South America hung herself because Momo asked her to. And once that was out there, more “reports” came in with similar content, that kids were hurting themselves because Momo told them to.
It turns out, however, that these news items were hoaxes, and Momo transformed from a creepy online challenge to a moral panic/urban legend.
Now that we’ve got some of the background, here are some of the resources I found in my online travels that I found very useful.
1. The White Hatter
Many students and teachers across the North may have already been exposed to the White Hatter. Made up of current and former law enforcement members, as well as academic researchers and investigators, the White Hatter team is mostly known for going from school to school and teaching kids and parents about online safety. The passion they have for this mission is inspirational, and they have gained a solid reputation for providing “students, teachers, parents, adults, businesses, and law enforcement with the knowledge and tools necessary to stay safe in the real world, and in today’s digital world.” (From the “About Us” page on their website.) The website’s focus is to explain the programs they offer to schools, parents and businesses; but it is also a great compilation of resources about Internet safety.
The White Hatter’s entry on the Momo challenge first explodes the myth surrounding the moral panic, then suggests that parents use it as an opportunity to talk to their kids about what is and is not true on the Internet. Here’s the entry: https://www.thewhitehatter.ca/blog/momo-challenge-lets-start-to-enlighten-and-not-frighten
Probably the best website out there to check right after you get that email informing you that Barack Obama threatened to shut down NASA unless the White House could make him a grilled-cheese sandwich with avocado. Snopes is well-written, well-researched, and fulfils its self-stated goal to “engage in the battle against misinformation.” Any urban legend is picked apart, any rumours are placed against fact, and everything is sourced out to prove or disprove its authenticity. It’s a great starting point for any story, like Momo, that just doesn’t smell right.
Its entry on the Momo challenge basically picks apart all the fact, but it does end with some advice from a pediatric psychologist on how to approach the issue with children. Read it here: https://www.snopes.com/news/2019/02/26/momo-challenge-suicide-game/
3. Netsanity blog
Netsanity is an American company started by three parents who were unsuccessfully trying to find a way to protect their children from the bad parts of the Internet. When they couldn’t find such a thing, they invented it – a cloud service that can be installed on Apple devices to keep the bad out.
While I haven’t tried the product itself, the website’s blog is quite well-written, and discusses some of the things that make parents squirm when they hand their kids the phone: pornography, digital distractions, gaming.
Netsanity’s entry on the Momo challenge focuses on how it can be blocked on your devices. And, like White Hatter and Snopes, it also suggests that parents use these things as opportunities to educate their kids. Here’s the post: https://netsanity.net/momo-what-parents-need-to-know/
4. Common Sense Media
The most extensive website on this list, Common Sense Media that is “dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology.” The website rates everything from movies to apps to books to games, and also touches upon some of the main issues that crop up with online activities.
The website doesn’t really discuss the Momo Challenge, instead relegating it to a short paragraph in a boilerplate “top 13” blog entry. There’s some other online challenges that are discussed, that parents might not know about, but that their children probably do: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/viral-youtube-challenges-internet-stunts-popular-with-kids
Using Google’s search technology, KidzSearch filters out all the unsafe stuff and just displays any kid-friendly results. It’s a little bit different than the other websites on this list, since it’s not really a place dedicated to Internet safety. However, once your kids start going online and searching for stuff, this might be a good place to start, so they don’t accidentally get R-rated results.
I’ll end this blog with a link to what happens when you search for “Momo” on KidzSearch; never before have I been so happy to see “no results” from a search engine: https://search.kidzsearch.com/kzsearch.php?q=momo&aff=&subid=&oq=momo&v=