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THE MOM SCENE: Momo Challenge a wake-up call for parents


It’s a good idea for parents to be informed about the latest online hoaxes and scares that could affect their children.
It’s a good idea for parents to be informed about the latest online hoaxes and scares that could affect their children. - 123RF Stock Photo

When I was in my second year of university, I made the mistake of watching The Ring. I’d watched plenty of horror movies before and wasn’t bothered — well, except for that one traumatizing viewing of Candyman when I was eight.

I can’t say what it was about The Ring. Maybe Samara’s twisted, pale face and dark, wet hair kind of reminded me of myself when I get out of the shower, but that movie scared the crap out of me for years.

So, I guess it’s no surprise that when a certain pale, dark-haired, scary-faced girl started popping up in our social media feeds — the dreaded Momo — I was spooked every time. I’d literally shudder and hide the post.

If you managed not to hear about the Momo Challenge, it was supposedly a series of videos encouraging kids to hurt themselves and the videos were said to be slipped into popular YouTube videos kids were already watching, like Peppa Pig and Minecraft.

Rumours of the Momo Challenge started circulating last summer, but reached hysterical levels last month after a post was shared by a police department. Pretty soon, it was all any parent was talking about.

Since I’m on social media a lot — er, mostly for work-related stuff — I saw the panic spreading and jumped on board. My kids watch YouTube regularly! They love YouTube! I told them they were absolutely not allowed to watch it until further notice because there might be a problem with it, but didn’t get into details.

Our eight-year-old son hadn’t heard of Momo, but he came home from school the next day and knew all about it. It was all the kids were talking about, too. Some kids claimed to have seen it, which made it even scarier for us, the parents.

It didn’t take long for people to start insisting the whole thing was a hoax. While Momo looks like a woman wearing a scary, wide-eyed mask, the zoomed-out images show it’s just a Japanese statue called Mother Bird.

It looks relatively woman-like from the shoulders up, but then it turns into a pair of bird legs. Seeing that made me feel better.

After a few days, I started to accept that it really was an urban legend, but I still haven’t let the kids back on YouTube.

The truth is that Momo could have been real and I might not have known my kids were seeing it. Our daughter sometimes watches YouTube videos on the living room TV, where we can hear and see what’s happening, but she sometimes watches them on the iPad with headphones.

When I walk by, she seems to be watching kids playing with Barbies or making slime, but I’m not paying close enough attention. She could be watching or listening to something that’s not appropriate at all.

Our son uses his computer to watch Minecraft videos on YouTube. I can see that’s definitely what he’s watching, but who knows what he’s hearing through the headphones or what’s popping up as a related video?

I’m not going to ban YouTube forever, but I’m going to be stricter about how and when the kids can watch it.

It doesn’t matter that the Momo Challenge was a hoax. What matters is that it gave me the parenting wake-up call I needed.

Heather Laura Clarke is a freelance journalist who married her high school sweetheart. They moved from the city to the country, where they spend their days making messes and memories with their eight-year-old son and six-year-old daughter. Follow their family’s adventures over at www.HeathersHandmadeLife.com.

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