The ‘Momo Challenge’ has Forced my Hand.

Most of these stories start the same way. You may remember a familiar voice saying, “When I was your age, we didn’t have color television and walked uphill to school both ways. In the snow, wearing egg cartons for shoes and ate sawdust for lunch.”

We heard it time and again from our grandparents and then were exposed to a slightly different version from our own parents. And now, I’m beginning to see the same stories trickle down to our kids, as my wife and I have become the elders.

“When I was your age, we didn’t have iPhones or tablets. We were forced to sit idle by our boomboxes and wait for OUR song to come on the TOP 8 at 8 and find the dexterity to push two buttons down at the same time, so it properly recorded on our Memorex 60. I had to physically rewind a song to hear it again – not just swipe left or ask Alexa. Our generation dealt with appointment television and didn’t have the luxury of on-demand or streaming.”

I’d like to think that in this age of amazing digital technology, the pros far outweigh the cons. Personally, we live several hundreds of miles away from both sets of our parents and extended families, however, technology affords us the ability to share intimate moments in real-time.

The Benefit of Technology

Just last night, I walked in on my wife Facetiming with her mom from the bathroom. She was sitting submerged in the tub, while giving Evelyn a bubble bath. A little odd? Ummm… yeah, but I’m old school.

This past weekend, I was in San Antonio speaking at the Dad 2.0 Summit. Of all things, my panel was titled ‘Saving Social Media’. While in Texas, my wife recorded our daughter getting her first earrings and shared it instantly to our family text thread. My nine year-old daughter texted me from her Gizmo watch to tell me she loved me. Upon my return, I was able to join a neurologist appointment for our son while never leaving my office. The long and the short of it is that for us and I’m guessing most of you – technology is amazing.

But with this age of incredible advancements brings a lot of additional stress.

As parents, we all try our hardest to do what’s necessary to protect our young children while they explore digital technology. If you’re like us, we bought them smart watches in an effort to monitor there whereabouts via GPS. It also served as a quick way to contact them without the hefty price of a cell phone. We’ve installed products like Disney Circle to monitor screen time and filter age-appropriate content.

In this age of instant-gratification, the thing that we sometimes forget or at least take for granted, is that our kids have INSTANT ACCESS to things that we’re sometimes unable to control. Even after giving our best efforts.

What is the ‘Momo Challenge’?

A few months ago, we were alerted to something that is referred to by the name “Momo”. This frightening character initiated by popping up on SnapChat and What’s App. It didn’t necessarily cross our periphery until its hackers made their way into YouTube and YouTube Kids.

The Momo Challenge started about six months ago. To me, it’s just another form of cyberbullying with incredibly dangerous and life threatening undertones. It seems to have originated in Japan, with its initial creator reaching out to users. They encouraged users to contact someone named “Momo”. They received graphic threats from the user and are instructed to perform a series of dangerous tasks. Some of them like turning on the stove while their parents sleep or even instructing kids to kill themselves by hanging or stabbing a knife into their neck. Momo uses the idea that “she” will harm their friends or family as a means to get kids to do things “she” asks and sends scary photos to encourage compliance.

That element died down, but it inspired copycats. The idea has recently resurfaced as still images of Momo that have been inserted into some YouTube and YouTube Kids videos like video game commentary for Roblox, Minecraft, Fortnite and has been reported to pop up in some Peppa Pig videos. It seems to be just visuals and some poorly crafted voiceover threatening kids while asking them to do things.

With user-generated content screenings almost impossible to stay on top of, it can be so hard to know if your child has been exposed to the terrifying message. YouTube released the following message via Twitter:

A Difficult Discussion

Last night, my wife and I were faced with the idea of having to discuss this with our kids. My fear was that if they WEREN’T aware of Momo, would this inspire a curiosity of the unknown–and a desire to look up this disturbing image? And if they were aware, were we really going to have a discussion with a 9, 7 and potentially 5-year old about self-harm and suicide??

We asked our oldest child, Ava, if she had ever heard of Momo before. She had not and my wife and I breathed a sigh of relief. Then we asked our seven year-old, who immediately replied with “Oh yeah, I know about that.” He didn’t seem concerned, but my stomach dropped into my shoes.

We immediately contacted several of our neighbors and almost all of their children not only knew who Momo was, but had violent, visceral emotional reactions when their parents even brought up the name. One immediately started crying, the other hid behind her hands.

The picture itself is actually of a Japanese sculpture and the body is essentially a chicken. The body has been removed in almost every photo online so that kids are led to believe it’s a person.

As Parents, What Are We Supposed to Do?

Regardless of where you net out on Momo, whether you believe the internet hype or think it’s overblown, there’s a more pressing and sad component: this is the idea of having to talk to our kids about suicide.

We feel like they’re too young to even know that people sometimes want to take their own lives. These kids are happy and don’t have a care in the world. Telling them that this even exists rips away a piece of their innocence. And that’s a horrible thing to face as a parent. The flip side is, what if WE choose to say nothing about suicide at all – this Momo Challenge is proof that someone else will. According to a recent CNN article, every five days one child between the ages of 5-12 takes their own life.

Every. Five. Days.

I’d like to think most of us are incredibly tuned in to the dangers that surround our kids every day. But the last couple of days have been eye opening for us as parents. As much as we tend to badmouth TV (even though we are both responsible for creating some of it),the reality is nothing makes it on the broadcast air without a lot of eyeballs and an abundance of standards.

Conversely these days, in the age of user-generated content, instant access to platforms like Snapchat or YouTube Kids offers an amazing array of educational videos for children. However, it’s nearly impossible to have 100% content oversight from the platform, and that can be dangerous. My wife and I have come to the realization that beginning an open dialogue about mental health and continuing our previous conversations with our children about safety – both online and in real life – is paramount.

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