DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Many are calling the viral ‘Momo Challenge’ a hoax, but mental health experts say it’s also an opportunity for parents to address online safety.
The social media fad recently prompted warnings from law enforcement and educators, including the Ohio Department of Education, for its potential danger to children and teens.
‘Momo’ is the name of a disturbing woman avatar with dark, scraggly hair, bulging eyes and a giant, creepy smile said to pop up during online videos. The image, taken originally from a Japanese sculpture, then uses popular messaging apps to direct the viewer to hurt others or themself in order to avoid a curse.
“It’s both a frightening image and it’s disturbing that parents might not understand what might be going on here, unless their kids say something to them,” said Dr. Gregory Ramey, the executive director of the Center for Pediatric Mental Health Resources at Dayton Children’s Hospital.
Some, including Youtube, are debunking the challenge as urban legend.
Wednesday, Youtube tweeted this statement:
“We want to clear something up regarding the Momo Challenge: We’ve seen no recent evidence of videos promoting the Momo Challenge on YouTube. Videos encouraging harmful and dangerous challenges are against our policies.”
Dr. Ramey claims several parents have told him their young children have seen the image and heard about the Momo Challenge. He said whether or not it’s real, now is a good time for parents to open a dialogue with their children about online safety.
He explained, “Engage them in a conversation of ‘have you or your friends ever seen things on the internet that you thought might not be quite right?'”
There have been no confirmed reports of injuries related to the Momo Challenge, although Dr. Ramey said there’s concern about the image and story itself disturbing children.
Because it’s unrealistic to remove access technology completely, he recommends instead monitoring a child’s online usage and talking about using it responsibly.
“We’ve got to accept that that’s the way the world is and figure out how to educate and guide and coach our kids to deal with this, rahter than just demonize technology,” Dr. Ramey said.
You can read more from Dayton Children’s about ‘Narrowing the Digital Divide’ by clicking here.
The hospital also offers a directory of mental health resources here.