What parents must know about the Momo suicide challenge
Learn how to protect your children.
Parents, you might have heard about the Blue Whale challenge already. This is a dangerous "game" that presents various "dares" to kids. And if they fail, they are goaded to take their own life. In other words, it's a suicide challenge.
Now, another similar challenge has reared its ugly head. Known as the Momo Challenge, this one uses a common, innocent messaging app – Whatsapp – to target children. We urge you to look out for it, learn more about it, and learn how to protect your children from it. Here's a clearer explanation of the risks of the Momo Challenge.
The Risks of Momo Challenge
The Momo Suicide Challenge is a game which has roots in Japan. Essentially, it all started with Facebook group members daring themselves to contact an unknown number. Nowadays, the suicide game is popular on both Facebook and Whatsapp.
The anonymous person with the unknown number, who is commonly known as "Momo", will instruct you to engage in odd activities, like waking up at night or overcoming a fear.
Children are then told to film themselves doing these activities and send it to Momo. If the challenge is successful, Momo will encourage you to partake in even more dangerous activities that involve harm – eventually leading to suicide.
More often than not, Momo won't just message you normally. Momo's messages may be filled with violent or scary content, and Momo will even call participants and intimidate them. Refusing to do the challenge will make Momo threaten to visit you and curse you.
It's very to easy to see why children feel so pressured in this hideous challenge.
The bulging eyes, wide grin and warped features of Momo make it easy to believe that she's real. Factor in the fact that children may have some difficulty distinguishing between reality and fantasy – together with peer pressure – and you have a disaster waiting to happen.
Interestingly, Momo herself isn't real. Momo is actually a sculpture named "Mother Bird" by Midori Hayashi, a Japanese Artist (see below). It was an artwork exhibited in Tokyo's horror Art Vanilla Gallery, and it was never intended to be used in a dangerous game on social media.
This is no joke, parents. The Momo Challenge is a a very serious cyber threat with real consequences. Recently, a 12-year-old girl in Buenos Aires has reportedly taken her own life in her home in Argentina. Apparently, she recorded her last moments before committing suicide. Police suspected that she heeded Momo's instructions and participated in the game.
Why does it work?
The game mainly works due to a few reasons:
- Social Media Apps like Facebook and Whatsapp are easily accessible today. Any unsuspecting child can just download it and be pressured into playing, thinking that there is no danger.
- Children's brains are still developing. Children are still unable to differentiate fact from fiction. Don't forget there's also peer pressure. Both of these factors can make a creepy face and frightening messages become reality, leading to tragedies.
- Whatsapp uses encrypted technology and anyone can use it with just a phone number. This means that parents and police find it hard to trace messages coming from an account and are unable to keep an eye out for possible cyberbullying behaviour.
How can I protect my children from this cruel game?
- Monitor and supervise your child's online activity. You can ask your child for their phone and check through their Whatsapp activity briefly.
- Educate your children about the dangers. Let your child know that suicide won't benefit anyone, and that it will only hurts their loved ones. Listening to Momo's instructions won't do anyone good: It will just cause people to get hurt.
- Be open with your kids, and encourage them to be a positive influence. If your child is old enough to understand clear risks, talk to them openly about this game. Tell them why they should not participate in it. Also, encourage them to be a pillar of support for their peers!
- Delay giving them a smartphone. Young children shouldn't be given a smartphone. For older kids, any normal phone that can make outgoing calls is more than enough.
- Be a good role model by limiting your own smartphone use, especially when your children are around. Start with simple habits like keeping the phone at home when going to dinner and leaving it off before bed (yes, even if you have to buy an alarm clock!).
- Set clear rules at home for using the smartphone, such as a no-phone schedule (during meals, before bedtime) and limiting when your children have access to phones. If your younger kids use Whatsapp, make sure it's only on the phone you or your partner uses.
Tackling the Issue of Suicide with Your Child:
1. Share your own experiences. We've all gone through a lot of scary experiences. Share your own struggles and the lessons you've learnt from them, and how everything turned out okay in the end.
2. Don't freak out. We all get panicky when it comes to suicide. However, your child will trust you more if you approach this in a calm manner.
3. Get on social media. Friend your child on Facebook, and Whatsapp. Let them know that you can always talk to them on the phone wherever they are.
But what if my children are already playing the Momo Challenge?
The Ministry of Education (MOE), Singapore, issued an advisory on the trend of suicide games via its online publication Schoolbag.
Here's a breakdown of the safety tips they gave:
- Know the warning signs. Keep an eye on your children for signs of distress, like out-of-character behaviour, aggressiveness, social withdrawal, anxiety, or fear.
- Talk about your child's feelings. Talk to your child with a smile. You have to make them feel safe confiding in you. Ask them calmly what the problem is and if you can help.
- Stand by their side in this challenge. Assure him or her that "Momo" doesn't exist, and that it's okay to refuse instructions or go against peer pressure. If your child is too scared, say that you'll stand by their side no matter what happens.
- Talk about what your child is watching or playing. You can talk about which characters your teen liked or disliked, and why he or she felt this way.
- Don't be afraid to ask your child direct questions if they've done anything dangerous or had a scary experience. Open up a healthy discussion with questions like "Have you ever been scared by someone recently?"
Lastly, don't forget that if worse comes to worst, you can always block or delete unknown phone numbers from your child's phone. Remember to file a police report and to also consult a paeditrician or a psychologist if your child had a traumatic experience.