There’s a disturbing cyber threat circulating online called the Momo Challenge, targeting young kids and encouraging them to do some really crazy things.
This sick prank is infiltrating social and gaming platforms and encouraging young children to self-harm.
The internet is divided as to whether or not Momo is actually a hoax or if it’s real, however there seem to be a lot of localised claims of parents whose kids have seen this freaky looking face and many whose children are genuinely upset having seen it while online.
If anything, it brings forth a strong opportunity for parents to have honest conversations with their kids about the dangers of online, predators and the importance of creating a safe place for kids to come forward should anything untoward arise while they’re online.
Parents are all aware of the dangers of the internet, but this new cyber threat is challenging given it pops up halfway through popular kids videos and online gameplay. ‘Momo’ is a female avatar originally created by a Japanese special effects company, however it’s since been hijacked and is now being used by the creators of this sick prank for more sinister purposes.
What is the Momo Challenge?
Momo will suddenly appear on various social channels in the middle of what appear to be innocent children’s videos and gameplay like Fortnite and Minecraft. However, Momo will then encourage the user to play her game – the Momo Challenge. She then sends violent images and in a haunting child’s voice encourages the viewer (knowing it’s likely to be a child) to do dangerous things to themselves and others. If you don’t do what she asks, she allegedly threatens to kill you or your family members.
The Momo Challenge first appeared on YouTube in July 2018. Since then it has also appeared on platforms like Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram and online games such as Fortnite and Minecraft. Parents have even reported it popping up on children’s YouTube Kids channel while they’ve been watching Peppa Pig, with the kid-safe mode on.
These cyber bullies appear to be targeting young children specifically so if your kids are using any form of a smart device such as a phone, tablet or smart TV – they could be at risk.
It’s brainwashing our kids
An eight-year-old boy in Edinburgh was told to take a knife out of the kitchen drawer and hold it to his neck. His mother reported that he had been scared and suffering from nightmares after being exposed to it for months.
Other frightening ‘instructions’ that Momo has dished out to vulnerable young kids include:
- leaving the oven on overnight
- pouring bleach on themselves
- riding their bike headfirst into the wall
- putting screwdrivers into electrical sockets, and more.
The Sun also reported that a five year-old girl from Cheltenham in the UK even cut off her long hair after being ‘brainwashed’ by Momo, who she encountered via YouTube videos.
“Her beautiful, blond hair had been hacked off, right down to the scalp, on both sides of her head. I burst into tears and felt sick to my stomach,” said the girl’s mother.
“My jaw dropped when she said ‘Momo made me do it’. She said that Momo wants everybody to be bald and made fun of her for having long hair. And Momo threatened to hurt her if she didn’t cut her hair off.”
And other kids have been too scared to tell their parents that they’ve seen Momo.
A New Zealand mother discovered her two children were silently traumatised by the character after showing them a picture and asking if they knew what it was. Apparently, they’d been too scared to say anything as Momo had said she would kill them or their parents.
How to keep your kids safe
The terrifying thing about this Momo Challenge is that even if your child is accessing age-appropriate content, with child safety modes on, they can still be attacked. So it’s important to try and protect them at all costs.
Parents can also use this as a good opportunity to talk to their kids, or remind them about cyber safety in general.
Here are some tips for how to protect your kids from the Momo Challenge:
- Show them it’s not real – Sit down and show them where the original image came from. Explain that Momo doesn’t exist and that she’s not a real person and can’t harm them.
- Teach them about hackers – Explain about doxing, how people can access all kinds of information about people via the internet and use it against them. Talk about how people may appear to be someone online when they’re really someone else. Teach them not to hand out private information or photos to anyone online, or give their phone number to anyone they don’t know.
- Communicate with them regularly – Find out who they’ve been interacting with on their smart devices and games. Ask them what people are talking about at school. Teach them to love and not harm themselves.
- Tell them to speak up – Make sure they come to you if they see the Momo Challenge, so you can be sure they’re not engaging with it or are scared by it. Let them know that even if they have done something bad because of it they are to tell you. You love them and want to protect them no matter what.
- Check their devices – If you’re worried they’re in danger, as a parent you have a right to look at their phone messages and apps. Even if they’re angry with you, it could be necessary.
- Supervise and limit devices – Be cautious about letting kids, especially young ones, access apps like YouTube or online games without you supervising. Use Kids YouTube, restrictive mode and other safety locks wherever possible and also think about limiting screen time in general. Opt for other ways to view videos, like DVDs, instead.
Tragically, this isn’t the first time cyber bullies have been causing children to harm themselves. For more information and strategies for how to deal with cyber and face-to-face bullies on ReachOut.com. And if you or anyone you know needs help, please contact: Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800.