Image from twitter/Moryam6
First, there was the Blue Whale Challenge, the sick ‘game’ that urged children perform dangerous dares, failing which, they were prodded to take their own lives. This grim suicide challenge caused a wave of moral panic in 2016 across several countries, including Russia, Brazil, India and the United States.
This year, a similar challenge broke out on the internet, reaching our shores. The Momo Challenge uses the WhatsApp messaging app to target children. Here’s everything you need to know about the cruel suicide challenge and how to protect your children.
The Momo Suicide Challenge
Rooted in Japan, the game which started on Facebook and moved on to WhatsApp involved members daring each other to contact an unknown member — an anonymous person known as Momo. Momo would then challenge participants to engage in odd activities such as overcoming fears or waking up in the middle of the night.
Children were asked to film themselves completing these activities and send it to Momo. After completing each challenge successfully, Momo would then challenge these children with even more dangerous activities, some of which involve self-harm, and ultimately leading to a suicide challenge.
Momo used scary or violent content and intimidating calls to goad children into completing challenges, threatening to visit and curse those who did not obey. Momo’s scary image, dubbed from a sculpture by Midori Hayashi called “Mother Bird” and showcased in a horror art gallery in Tokyo, features bulging eyes and a sinister, wide grin.
This is not a drill
A 12-year-old girl in Buenos Aires reportedly took her life, recording her last moments before completing the suicide challenge. Cyber-threat consequences are real and we urge parents to be vigilant.
Why it can work on children
Social Media apps are easily accessible to any unsuspecting child. As children’s brains are still developing, their vivid imagination coupled with peer pressure is enough for them to confuse fantasy with reality, making them susceptible to an intimidating suicide challenge. Scary things that may seem like rubbish to adults can be real to children. Moreover, WhatsApp’s encryption technology allows anyone with a phone number to use it, making it difficult for parents or the police to trace messages coming from an unidentified account.
How can you protect your child?
Taking your children’s smartphones away may not be as straightforward as it sounds, but there are other steps to take to safeguard your children from cyberbullying and a suicide challenge like this.
- Monitor your child’s online activity and supervise as much as you can. Check through their messages briefly to make sure everything is okay
- Teach your children about the dangers of cyber threats and let them know that suicide does not benefit anyone
- Educate them about the Momo suicide challenge and assure them that listening to Momo will just cause people to get hurt. Let them know what they can to do ask for help for themselves of their friends
- Encourage an open and positive conversation about the dangers of a suicide challenge
- Delay giving your child a smartphone. A regular phone that can make calls or send texts is enough
- Limit your own smartphone use to set a good example for your children \
- Set clear no-phone schedules such as at mealtime or bedtime
- Make sure your children only use WhatsApp on yours or your partner’s phone
- Share your own scary experiences and struggles, and the lessons you learnt, highlighting the happy endings that came from them
- Teach them that suicidal thoughts should be discussed with you so that you can do what is needed to help them get through
- Do not freak out of panic if your child mentions suicide
- Connect with your children on all the social media platforms they use so that you can keep tabs on what content they have access to and stay in touch no matter where they are
- Tell your child you love them every day, and send them messages throughout the day to see if everything is alright
My child has already begun Momo’s challenges. What should I do?
The Ministry of Education (MOE), Singapore, issued an advisory on the trend of suicide games. Here are the safety tips they gave:
- Keep an eye out for warning or distress signs such as fear, anxiety, out-of-character behaviour, aggressiveness or social withdrawal
- Ask your child about their feelings in a calm manner, with a smile and assure them that they can trust you
- Be there for your child and explain that Momo does not exist and that it okay not to listen to the instructions
- Assure your child that you will stay by their side no matter what, through this ordeal
- Talk about characters and shows they watch or see on the internet or TV and learn about their likes and dislikes
- Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions about doing anything dangerous or scary recently
- Block or delete unknown phone numbers from your child’s phone
- File a police report and consult a paediatrician or a psychologist if necessary