The stories are scary, the picture of Momo is the stuff of nightmares and frankly, it's easy to get caught up in the horror and panic, isn't it?
I, like thousands of others, posted a warning about the Momo Challenge last week on my Facebook page, and almost instantly regretted it.
I took it down shortly afterwards.
I meant well, of course. The stories are scary, the picture of Momo is the stuff of nightmares and frankly, it's easy to get caught up in the horror and panic, isn't it? Few of us, if any, are immune.
Very shortly after posting it, a person who follows my page wrote this:
The comment really struck me. It was made by a twenty-something person who is au fait with technology and how it works. And they were annoyed. Clearly. And I could see where they're coming from actually.
The amount of engagement and the reach of that post was large given the short amount of time it was up. I have only 600+ followers - it's not a lot. And I don't pay for reach.
I've posted articles in the past talking about the "how to" when it comes to talking to kids and teens and online safety. Those pieces, where I aimed to be actually helpful and practical, didn't get nearly the same amount of attention in 30 minutes as this one.
I guess they just weren't scary enough.
So it leaves me wondering - what do we need to do to help each other grasp the realities of actual dangers online? The Momo Challenge is really no more than a rumour. It's the modern equivalent of the man in the white van offering sweeties.
How many of us have seen this white van??? I haven't. Not once.
And yet I've worked with more victims of child abuse and sexual assault than I honestly want to count. Men in white vans aren't the danger. That's not what we need to look out for. Abusers live and operate in plain sight now, as they always have.
The link to the suicide of an Argentinian girl is a hoax. The rumour, because that's what it is, has been debunked. It's been around since mid-2018, it receded and then came back. It's dramatic and it's click bait. I kind of can't believe I fell for it #rollseyes etc But there you have it - I'm human - we all are!
The real lesson here is this - there are dangers, real ones, that we are choosing to ignore. There are real links to online activity and child abuse, sexual assault, porn addiction, body image issues and an assortment of mental health problems that require specialised, professional support.
It's hard to face up to the reality that our children might be exposed, in very simple ways, to all sorts of dangers, on a daily, perhaps hourly basis.
It's a frightening and guilt-filled time for parents who are aware of some of the dangers, but genuinely feel unable to manage them. "Overwhelmed" is a word I hear more and more. That's a big word. I know what it's like to want to avoid a scary thing.
I do it all the time, we all do.
The real dangers
It's too easy to say that we are out of touch, that we don't know how to use those apps, that oul' SnapChat yolk isn't for me, that Instagram is mindless. And isn't it amazing what toddlers can do with a smartphone? Well, yes, it is - it's amazing! And it is also of great concern.
We feel like kids are privy to information that we couldn't possibly grasp. So we shy away, maybe even dismiss it, as just a toy really. Harmless overall. We like to think that they know the difference between "real" and online life. But for our kids - this is their life. It's their all. They are using Snapchat, Tik Tok, YouTube, Instagram, Musical.ly to name just a few. For HOURS in some cases. Most cases it seems.
Instagram has its own plethora of dangers - mostly around body image, exploitation of selfies and nudes and the incessant, relentless porn pages. I recently started a business Instagram and am horrified to see the number of users posing as therapists who have followed me in the hope of a "follow-back". Their fans, mostly young girls and women, exist in their thousands.
They have no reason to doubt their "credentials" and their "ethos" which is usually focussed on image, diet and posing in sexually submissive (and spine breaking surely??) ways. You and I can have a giggle or an eye roll. Or maybe you too are affected by these pages - it's not just teenagers that are vulnerable. But this is where eating issues, self-loathing and self-harm can begin.
And not a Momo or a white van in sight!
YouTube has just come out to say that no, Momo is not a real thing on their platform. But what is a real thing is the ability to comment, to share videos, to bully, harass and network. This week they announced steps to curb the ability to comment on videos. This is a welcome attempt to limit paedophile gangs to discover each other and communicate via YouTube. It's a start.
In the past, I wrote about Musical.ly which is now owned by the same company as Tik Tok. Again, this week, we hear of fines issued because they too have been found to have engaged in "disturbing practices, including collecting and exposing the location" of minors. Momo is a sweet and fluffy dream compared to these guys.
I could go on - I really could. But suffice it to say: what we need to do, we REALLY need to do, is get to know our children's technology and learn how to use it ourselves.
Just Google them.
It's the only way - the ONLY way - we can teach our kids to be safe (sorry for shouting). We really need to boundary up when it comes to screen time. It's great to use screens as a way of keeping them busy, quiet and occupied and I am, in fact, a great fan of tech. But it must be used wisely.
There are far bigger challenges than Momo. And if we are willing to learn I genuinely believe we can meet them.
The internet ain't goin' away, it's everywhere, in plain sight. And so are its dangers.
Sally O’Reilly is the Family Psychology Experthere at FamilyFriendlyHQ. She's a Psychologist, Psychotherapist & Clinical Supervisor in private practice in East Cork with twenty years’ fulltimeexperience. She has a special interest in working with teenagers. For more info contact her through her site sallyoreilly.comor on Twitter @psychosalor Facebookat Sally O'Reilly Psychology & Psychotherapy.