Talking to your kids about “MOMO”

Talking to your kids about “MOMO”

Navigating the Scary Online World

 

What it is MOMO.

MOMO is a character of Japanese origin (also called “mother bird”) with bug eyes, slits for a nose, and a mouth shaped somewhat beak-like. The overall effect of the character is creepy and disturbing. It has been used in Memes and on various media platforms with sexual, violent, and self-harming connotations. From this has risen reports of an “internet challenge” similar to the Blue Whale and Tide Pod challenge in which MOMO appears and challenges/commands viewers to participate in various violent or suicidal behavior.  Additional reports have surfaced this week about edited videos of Peppa Pig and Minecraft on YouTube Kids that contain surprise appearances of MOMO. Apparently, users of Minecraft have also created a MOMO character.

 

What Effect Does MOMO Have on my Children?

A dear friend of mine asked her 3 year old if she knew of Momo, and the three year old said ‘Yes, she lives in my movies and plays games.’ There are conflicting reports about whether the implanting in Peppa Pig videos has occurred or not. I’m not going to discuss the veracity of any of these reports, other than to say that based on my friend’s account, some children have seen it. I am primarily going to discuss how to talk to your children about what they have been exposed to on the internet, especially if they have seen MOMO or similar age inappropriate content.

What Can I do to protect my Children?

These conversations have two tasks: Gathering information and providing context. When gathering information, demonstrate curiosity and safety, not the sense that they have done something wrong. It is vitally important that as we gather information from our children about their exposure to inappropriate material (pornography, creepy art, violent games, movies, music) that we do so without an attitude of shame or condemnation. So often we as parents are appalled at what we discover our kids watching and discharge all of that negative energy onto them. “I can’t believe you would watch this!” “What are you doing!?” “You know you’re not supposed to…”

This is not the best response, though, and reality is, it’s ultimately up to adults to filter what kids see, especially kids under 10. Though I don’t usually say the words above, I catch myself sending strong non-verbal messages of disapproval. Both verbal and nonverbal messages will shut your child down and cover their experiences with a sense of shame. Which is almost as damaging as their first exposure.

The second task starts with helping your children identify how they felt, interpreted, and responded to the content. It then moves to giving them an understanding of what they saw, why it was done, and what to do if they see it again.

For children up to 10 years old:

  • Ask if they have seen scary people or cartoons in their videos. Ask about Momo specifically.
  • Ask them to describe what the video said, did, showed, etc.
    • Encourage them to tell it all. What they don’t tell will keep scaring them, “What else?” “Did it tell you not to tell your parents about something?” “did it tell you to do anything, or challenge you to do anything?”
  • Connect and frame with emotion, “Wow, how did you feel?” “man, that sounds scary (weird, confusing, frightening).”
    • There may be a mix of feelings—“it was kinda funny but kinda scary”
      • Simply acknowledge if something was funny to them, you don’t have to correct them for it. Humor is automatic, very complex, and hard for adults to explain why they feel it in some instances
    • Ask what they think about what they saw or what was happening, or what it challenged or commanded. Reflect, don’t correct. This is the place in the conversation where you are trying to help them verbalize what they experienced and identify what they think.
    • Provide framework. Once your child has put their experience into words, it is appropriate and necessary to teach. It’s ok if this happens in a separate conversation, but it must be talked about.
      • Affirm them talking to you about it and tell them to tell you if they ever see content like that again. Assure them that they won’t be in trouble.
      • The specifics will vary depending on what’s been seen
        • Momo is a made up character that people pretend to be. Some people think it’s funny to pretend to be Momo and scare kids. These are bad people and you don’t have to do what they say. They can’t hurt you and what they say is not true.
      • This provides an opportunity to talk about suicide and self-harm.
        • Suicide- if suicide was discussed, explain it. Suicide is when someone does something on purpose to kill themselves. What do you think about that? Have you ever wanted to do that? We would feel so sad if you weren’t with us.
        • Self-harm- If your child is not engaging in self-harm behaviors, I recommend this, “the person was trying to get you to be mean to your body by doing stuff that hurts.”
          • Have you ever done this or heard of it?
          • Some people who are sick do this. There are better ways to handle feeling upset (insert examples of healthy ways to calm down.)

Regarding internet safety

This is not an article recommending screen time limits, it’s about internet safety. We can’t be lured into the false belief that there are safe spaces online. If the internet were a playground, it would be filled with broken glass, used needles, and surrounded by child molesters and voyeurs. We must monitor all screen activity. Phones and screens need to be in common family spaces, not alone in rooms.

If you aren’t wanting to rid the family of online videos, subscribe to specific channels, use only apps put out by the producer of the shows they like, adjust settings on your accounts that removes the search bar. These are some ideas. I encourage people to do their own research about how to protect your children.

 

Will McNeese

Staff Therapist

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