The MOMO Challenge started in 2018 where a character named MOMO contacts you through WhatsApp and convinces you to contact that character with their cell phone. Once that happens, players are supposed to either commit self-harm or suicide or else they will be threatened with “an evil spell.” After the suicide of a 12 year-old in Indonesia, panic has struck and the challenge is said to continue spreading to the schools of more teens.
The MOMO Challenge that encourages teens to commit suicide is still spreading to campuses. It first started when first graders at Brick school were talking about the challenge as it was found on Facebook and WhatsApp. Children from Glassboro and Oaklyn schools have been exposed to this challenge. The South Brunswick Police Department has been warning parents about the dangers of this challenge as well as to monitor their children’s social media accounts in response to worldwide reports. The New Jersey Crisis Intervention Team is also doing their part to ask parents to read and speak to their children. School districts are saying that their students are scared at the reemergence that this game continues to have. Parents, educators, and board members need to not be afraid to talk to students about this challenge so that they are aware and informed of this game’s dangers.
There are experts and charities that believe that the MOMO Challenge is nothing more than moral panic spread by adults. They believe that that there is no evidence that the game has caused harm. The way the challenge goes is that a scary doll figure with a sinister voice targets children’s websites like YouTube Kids and the figure comes on the screen during the video. The figure attempts to talk to children about committing dangerous acts including suicide. This challenge has been found on Facebook, WhatsApp, and other forms of media targeting children.
The South Brunswick School District will have a workshop for parents and students at the Social Media and Technology Symposium in March. This workshop will give parents and students the opportunity to learn about cyber safety and how to better navigate around social media.
Children can develop anxiety after watching a scary video. The part of the brain that stores emotions, the amygdala, will hold onto this memory and bring about feelings of being scared or anxious. One study, “Tales from the Screen: Enduring Fright Reactions to Scary Media,” said that one quarter of students who had fearful reactions to media in the past continued to have them years later. Children can also develop sleep disorders at the exposure of seeing scary footage as well as at night. They could be having terrifying nightmares of what they saw as well as having heart issues, weight problems, behavior problems, learning difficulties, and mental health issues.
It is also said that children that are constantly watching media violence will have a tendency to act out that violence. Their emotional response to violence or see someone hurt will decrease since these are images that they are used to seeing. They could just be seeing violence as a natural thing that happens all the time in a hostile world or are lacking empathy in victims of violence.
Parents should limit the screen time to about an hour a day. If there is too much freedom in what children sees, then that means there will be a chance that they can find footage on YouTube or other video streaming sites that will have disturbing footage. Find your children media that is appropriate to their age such as making sure they have children’s accounts to streaming sites like Netflix. Use parental ratings guides to teach your children what shows or movies are appropriate to their age and apply filters to their computers or televisions.
You should also let your children know about how important it is that they look at the title and description of a video before you watch it. If you know that a video has a warning about graphic and disturbing content, it is best to stay away from those. In order to have more knowledge about what your children are watching, tell your child to only use their computer in family spaces where you can see them. If your child do happen to see any violent or disturbing images, do not try to change the subject with them or tell them that they are not old enough to know. Let them know what they are seeing and why it is not for children’s eyes. Help them work through any fears and worries they may have.
If your child is having feelings of distress because they saw something violent or scary that they should not have seen, empathize with them. Let them know that what they saw is very scary and perfectly understandable to feel this way. Teach them to take deep breaths before they go to bed to prevent nightmares occurring and to fall asleep faster. Rationalize that what they are seeing is make believe. By being aware of the MOMO Challenge and monitoring your child’s screen time will prevent this dangerous challenge from having an effect.
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