Today, my 10 year old daughter, who suffers from an anxiety disorder, had a panic attack at school and had to be picked up. I found out from her, after I got her home, that the thing that had triggered her was a classmate warning her about Momo. The classmate told her that Momo is on the internet making kids kill themselves. And that there are bad videos on YouTube and they can make you kill yourself too. And the classmate tried to show her a picture of Momo, but she was too afraid to look.
My daughter is no longer afraid of Momo, and I am not afraid of Momo hurting my daughter. I will tell you how I did that. But first let me tell you why Momo is a danger in the first place.
In recent weeks, we have all seen articles, frantic Facebook posts, and television coverage of the resurgence of “the Momo challenge”- a dangerous internet trend that allegedly encourages children to mischief, self-harm, and even suicide.
The internet is a dangerous place, and it is important to be aware of what is on it, and why, and how your children interact with it. However, the way we talk about it, and educate our children about it, and share news about it, directly influences the effectiveness of internet dangers like Momo.
Remember that whether or not you talk to your kids about Momo, they are talking to each other. And this is what they hear and see:
Put yourself in a child’s shoes. If the list above is all you know, what conclusion will you draw?
That there are demons, and dangers, and things you can’t protect yourself from, all over the internet, and you know it’s real because all the grown-ups are scared too.
Now put yourself in an internet predator’s shoes. You know exactly what children are afraid of. You know that if they’re on the internet, it’s not because they haven’t heard about this, it’s because they don’t think it’s going to happen to them. If you tell a child on the internet, “I am Momo, I can see you, I will come to your house and kill your family unless you do exactly as I say,” and you pair it with the now-familiar Momo profile picture, THEY WILL DO WHATEVER YOU WANT. They’ll agree not to tell anyone they’re talking to you. They will give up personal information. They will send you pictures.
They are primed.
Because we are priming them.
There is danger on the internet. There are predators who would prey upon the innocence our children. There is reason to be wary. But there are also dangers in shopping malls, and airports, and playgrounds and after-school clubs and public places and private parties and anywhere there are people. This danger is no different from any of those. It’s just newer, and bigger, and we understand it less.
And that’s the key.
The internet is the world’s largest public place. And nearly as unavoidable. You can place limits, and take away devices, and install filter aps. But your first and most powerful line of defense is COMPREHENSION.
Whenever the news starts reporting a new and dangerous internet trend or YouTube challenge or child-targeting scam, don’t just “share.”
Investigate. Fact-check. Find out exactly how the scam works. Find out exactly who is doing it, and how, and why, and to what end. Read articles from multiple sources. Draw your own conclusions.
Once you understand the scam, explain it to your children. All of it. In clear, simple, specific detail.
A SCAMMER CANNOT HURT YOU IF YOU KNOW YOU’RE BEING SCAMMED.
Don’t tell your children that the internet is a danger they cannot protect against, because it isn’t. Tell your children that people are a danger, and that dangerous people might try to use the internet to trick you. But you can stop them.
You are not powerless. There are no demons, no ghosts, and no black magic on your devices. There is bad information and good information. Bad people and good people. Bad videos and good videos.
You can tell the difference. You have the power to protect yourself.
Here is exactly what I told my daughter:
So, to my fellow parents…at the end of the day, it’s your choice how much you allow your children to access the internet, and how much you police their activity, what aps you allow them use, and what videos you let them watch. That is for every parent to decide for themselves.
But someday, it will be THEIR choice. Someday, they’ll have to navigate the world on their own. And if all they know is that it’s scary, the world will use their fear against them.
Dangerous is not the same as scary.
Teach your kids to be cautious, not afraid. Informed, not ignorant. Questioning, not accepting. Savvy and unscammable. Ready.
You have the power.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.