The MOMO challenge was a hoax, what can we learn as parents?

Alrighty, if you’re a parent, chances are you’ve heard this story and even passed it on — I did to one of our school parents’ groups. Talking to my husband about it the same evening, we were struggling to make sense of how it could even work… that was the first red light.

The original article I shared has been taken down. The media definitely jumped on this story all over the world and it’s a wakeup call for them to not share hysteria too! The media are screwing up everywhere!!

But it’s a hoax. Here’s one piece, another article, and another that clarifies it and talks about how to spot a hoax. But it’s our kids, better safe than sorry, right?

Any parent today has an incredible maze to navigate raising children in the digital age, and stuff like this is going to pop up. What can we do?

As someone who is deeply invested in social media — monitoring conversations across all topics, all ages, all regions — I pay attention to the global conversations and have more hope for our kids than they seem to get credit for. I get revolting stuff happening to me, and the children I keep an eye on do too. It’s not the majority. It’s a minority and while awful, from a percentage perspective, it probably maps with real life ‘awful people experiences.’

There are definitely big issues we need to be aware of, don’t get me wrong, but cool minds are critical if we don’t want to make matters worse. This story is a classic example of wait and watch. Learn and know. It was never going to be something that would impact our kids instantly, if they hadn’t already been impacted. It was just out there, a potential threat waiting for our kids to find it. So definitely a case of learn first, don’t panic.

The media has a big role in keeping things calm too. They must be responsible and highlight the bad of social media, especially the victims of cyberbullying. However, they need to be aware not to make it sound like that’s all that’s going on. It’s not. There is so much good.

In-person bullying, and cyber bullying are no different in my mind, the audience is just bigger when it’s cyber — which can have a huge impact on the victim. That’s an issue we need to address. So, our first job is to make sure we’re not raising bullies huh? And to constantly talk to our kids about that sort of behaviour. I certainly do, a lot, because I was on the receiving end of bullying when I was a teenager!

Regardless, this digital/social stuff ain’t going anywhere. Even if we think our kids aren’t on it, they are and we can’t stop them — no really, we can’t. We are deluding ourselves if we think we can. Equally, the social media platforms are trying hard to make this a safer place for kids, and I know most don’t trust social media companies today, but they are part of the landscape. We need to work with them to make it safer for all of us.

So as a deeply invested social media person, here’s my advice to any parent interested — for what it’s worth:

Be on the platforms our kids are using so we understand them — the most critical point!! The parents who worry the most aren’t social or aren’t social enough. Social is part of our kid’s very being. It’s a core part of their life. It’s never not been in their lives. When parents are having a dabble here, having a dabble there on Facebook, it just doesn’t cut it if you want to understand kids today. They are fully immersed. It’s part of them.

Understand that new platforms will be created, and we won’t even know about them. Here our kids will hang out and get up to mischief. SnapChat was this platform in its early days. The truth is, there’s nothing we can do about it. They will create hidden worlds and we won’t know where they are or what they’re doing, because they have that ability.

The more we “interfere” the more we push them underground, because hey, we did that when we were teenagers too — just not digitally. We need to be realistic. The only hope is open communication with our kids or finding another trusted adult they’ll speak to when they decide they no longer want to speak to us.

We all need to speak to our kids regularly about being kind and respectful online, as we ask them to be in life. For kids without that parental guidance, communities need to step in.

We all must pay attention. Listen to the words our kids use — especially if it sounds like a code word or unusual word like Momo. Ask them what it means, or Google it if you think using the word will raise alarm bells.

When news like this breaks, take the time to read it and then wait for a few more articles to come out. I shared this faster than I normally would, but the one I shared was a very well researched piece. Still, it’s been a good reminder for me to follow my own rules. Panic is not our friend here, especially in a case like this. My boys hadn’t even heard the word Momo. I certainly wasn’t going to show them that horrible photo.

None of this is going to be easy, but open communication, fair agreements on what’s right and wrong digitally, and keeping an eye on them is what matters. In many ways, it’s no different to pre-digital times, it just feels that way. I also think parents are more frantic these days, so that makes it harder to keep an eye on things too.

Can I ask us all to commit to paying attention but staying cool too? Not because you want to be a cool parent, but because all of us remember the parents who didn’t stay cool and their kids were always the ones getting into the most trouble.

Kids are smart. They just have different toys to play with than we did. I have hope for them. I really do. I also remember hating the lack of trust adults put in kids when I was one.

Final point, we need to look at how this information is covered with kids. I find children consistently pushing back on school education programs around social media, as well as parents or communities talking about it. They push back because the people that are talking to them have NO IDEA what social media is or how they’re using it.

If you want to tackle the extensive issues around social media in a way that is relevant to your children, bring in a young, cool, attractive influencer to talk to the kids. They will speak their language and understand their world, because they live in it. The kids will listen to them.

I believe we are really misunderstanding the culture our children are growing up in, as my parents did when I grew up, and their parents did before that. But we don’t have to follow history. Let’s recreate the future so we help our kids navigate this time. Otherwise, we’ll just make it worse.

Anyhoo, just wanted to share these thoughts because I think it’s important. I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, children’s specialist, or anything else, just a mum/professional who lives in a social media world and is ready to help my boys navigate it, as I have for many of my friend’s kids, because the parents weren’t on social media. Take this squarely as my own opinion and if you value it, awesome, if not, feel free to help me learn?



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