After seeing article after article about Momo on my feed, I figured it was time to ask my daughter about it. Our conversation went like this:
Me: Anak, have you heard about Momo?
Bianca: You mean Momoland? I don’t really like them. I just liked one song.
After a few minutes of her introducing me to new Kpop songs from bands whose names I can’t pronounce, we finally got to the Momo challenge.
Bianca: Ohh, Momo. I have heard of it. My classmates have talked about it. But I’ve never seen it.
I’ll count it as a win that all our supervision and the tools we used did protect our daughter from seeing these videos firsthand. I’m happy that the first thing that came to her mind was when I asked her about it was a KPop supergroup.
But at the same time, I’m disturbed by the fact that her classmates knew about these videos. It bothered me that they’re talking about it in school.
You Can’t Always Protect Them
The Momo Challenge isn’t new. In fact, it’s been around since 2016. The resurgence is due to the viral post from a parent who claimed to have seen these videos. It was then picked up by the mainstream news cycle; then more reports started popping up.
Another thing that has always existed that still surprises us is the realization that you can’t protect your kids from everything.
Compared to most parents. I know I’m lucky. Both my husband and I work from home, which made parental supervision easier. We know and use a lot of tools to monitor our daughter’s device use and online activities. We’ve even given talks to schools to educate parents on how to protect their children online.
But even with all that in place, she still knows what this challenge is all about.
I know I can’t protect her from everything but it’s so frustrating that as soon as they step outside the house, our kids are exposed to the very evils we’re try to protect them from.
She does have an idea of what the Momo challenge is about. She knows what’s in those videos even though she hasn’t seen them. So we talked about it. Talking eventually led to some really tough questions any parent would have a hard time answering. Questions like:
Why is this happening?
Why would someone take something as innocent as a children’s cartoon and corrupt it like that?
How can a powerful company like YouTube allow this to happen?
If a billion dollar corporation can’t stop a few sick YouTubers from doing this, what can we do as parents to protect our kids?
Let’s Get Ready To Rumble
It’s easy to be discouraged by events like this when you realize that this has been going on for years. It didn’t even start with the Momo Challenge. Disturbing images and inappropriate content in supposedly “kid-friendly” videos have existed on YouTube for a long time.
Even with increased vigilance and stricter guidelines from YouTube, and the creation of YouTube Kids so kids only have access to carefully curated content, some disturbing videos still manage to break through.
But we’re not helpless. Unlike corporations, parents are essentially superheroes. We’ll stop at nothing to protect our kids.
One way would be to report these videos. Algorithms designed to block disturbing content aren’t perfect. These malicious creators found a loophole by inserting these disturbing images into kids cartoons. They’re incentivized to continue creating and sharing these videos because of all the attention they’re getting. The more attention they get, the more views they get, the more money they make from these videos.
Let’s hit these creators where it hurts. Report these videos to YouTube so these channels can be blocked and demonetized. Blocking their channels makes it harder for them to release this garbage. Demonetizing removes the financial incentive to make more.
Reporting also makes it easier for YouTube to identify these videos in the future and block them before they’re widely released.
When all that’s done, this is where the really hard part of parenting comes in.
We need to guide and counsel our kids. We help them understand why evil exists and why doing the good thing is still worthwhile. And lastly, we have to trust that they’ll do the right thing when they have to face this challenge on their own.
So, for now, the rules in our house still applies. No device and online access on the weekdays (except for school work). No unsupervised YouTube viewing and unsupervised access to devices on the weekends.
We can’t impose our rules on everyone else but I hope now that more parents are aware of the Momo challenge, they’d work out their own system for their children’s technology use. I know my husband and I would be more than happy to help out anyone who needs advice.
We also told her school about it. Schools need to be aware that students know about this challenge so they can work with parents on the best way to approach this issue.
The Value of Horror
As much as we want to keep our kids innocent, we have to prepare them for the real world. They have to understand that violence, suicide, and self-harm are real evils. They’re not manufactured terrors for our entertainment. These are complex issues that our children have to navigate and they need to know what they’re up against.
Let’s not allow the people who created and promoted the Momo challenge to scar our kids. Let’s not give it any more power or recognition it deserves. We need to see Momo as what it really is, an attempt at horror. Horror, used in art, is designed to make us viscerally aware of the evils in the world. It’s meant to motivate us to address these evils and do something to good.
And that is what we need to do. The scary part is over. Let’s face these issues head on and start making the world and better place for our kids.