Perhaps you have heard of the “Momo Challenge” — the “creepy and dangerous game sweeping through social media platforms” that attracts child predators, erases boundaries of online privacy, and encourages acts of self-harm, and, in this case, suicide:

Momo encourages a participant to complete various tasks if they want to avoid being “cursed.” Some of the tasks include self harm, which Momo asks the participant to provide photographic evidence in order to continue the game. Ultimately, the game ends with Momo telling the participant to take their own life and record it for social media.

 

Scary, isn’t it? “Like eating Tide Pods or snorting condoms, the Momo challenge is a viral hoax,” Taylor Lorenz opined emphatically last week in The Atlantic. “Momo is not trying to kill children”:

To any concerned parents reading this: Do not worry. The “Momo challenge” is a recurring viral hoax that has been perpetuated by local news stations and scared parents around the world.

 

The PediaBlog has reported on other “challenges” in the past. In 2013, we covered the infamous “Cinnamon Challenge” and then followed that up with the supposedly safer “Saltine Cracker Challenge”. In 2017, it was the “Salt and Ice Challenge” and last year, the “Tide Pod Challenge”. Lorenz says they all have one thing in common: they elicit “shock, terror, and outrage” from the media and from parents:

For parents today, it can seem like the internet has endless ways of trying to kill your children or persuading your children to kill themselves. The so-called Blue Whale challenge supposedly asked kids to complete a series of tasks that culminated in suicide. The trend later turned out to be a hoax. Local news has warned about recent “crazes” like teens eating toxic Tide Pods (they weren’t), or potentially choking to death while snorting condoms for YouTube views (no deaths have been reported). Even the cinnamon challenge could supposedly kill you.

All of these challenges and trends follow the same formula: A local news station runs a piece overstating a dangerous teen trend. Concerned parents flock to social media to spread the word[…]

 

Pediatrician and mother, Dr. Free N. Hess, discovered that disturbing videos targeting children can be found online rather easily:

I wish I could say that they are isolated incidents but unfortunately I cannot. My research has led me into a horrifying world where people create cartoons glorifying dangerous topics and scenarios such self-harm, suicide, sexual exploitation, trafficking, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and gun violence which includes a simulated school shooting. All of these videos were found on YouTube Kids, a platform that advertises itself to be a safe place for children 8 years old and under.

 

Dr. Hess shows us some specific examples on her excellent blog, PediMom:

There were just so many that I had to stop recording. I settled for screenshots of some other to give you all more of an idea of how significant this problem is. The following screenshots are of a Mario Brother cartoon where Mario goes into an all girls school and has lots of inappropriate comments and actions. There are also some screenshots of the descriptive explanation of the girl attempting to hang herself.

 

Dr. Hess told CNN last week that social media and online video-hosting sites — especially ones like YouTube Kids, which is geared specifically for young viewers — have a responsibility to fix the problem, and so do parents:

“Once someone reports it, it’s too late because a kid has already seen it,” she said.

Hess also wants parents to be more aware of what their children are watching on YouTube and YouTube Kids, and for parents to do a better job in general of keeping up with technology.

“There is this disconnect between what kids know about technology and what their parents know because the parents didn’t grow up with it,” she said. “The kids are the digital natives and the parents are digital immigrants.”

Most importantly, she says, parents need to team up with each other to combat this problem.

“We need to fix this,” she said, “and we all need to fix this together.”

 

Children are exposed to all kinds of things online everyday. Pediatrician Dr. Kristen Stuppy reminds us that once vile content is viewed, “our kids can never ‘un-see’ what they’ve seen”:

We know that traumas impact a child’s development. They can develop significant anxieties and suffer if things are not quickly and adequately addressed.

When things happen we need to find ways to help our kids process them. If your child’s mood or behavior suddenly changes, it is quite possible that they have experienced a traumatic event of some sort. If they won’t talk to you, seek professional help.

 

On her outstanding blog, Quest for Health KC, Dr. Stuppy offers important and timely anticipatory guidance to parents who may be excused for feeling helpless in protecting their children from the digital realities of contemporary life. As if the real world wasn’t scary enough.

 

(Google Images)