While the first mentions of the “Momo Challenge” started surfacing more than six months ago, conversations about the topic peaked on social media this spring.
According to media reports, the “Momo Challenge” is an alleged form of cyberbullying that includes the spread of a frightening image and graphic instructions for young people to hurt themselves or others. While the validity and reach of this social media phenomena were questioned by internet experts and law enforcement officials, and being denounced by some as a hoax, the “Momo Challenge” raised the attention of parents with concerns about how to help keep their children safe when they’re using apps and online resources like YouTube.
Stacy Behmer is the manager of digital learning for Grant Wood Area Education Agency, and she works with a team who spend their days helping teachers and administrators incorporate technology and tools into their classrooms to support research-based instructional practices. She says, “Online sites, apps and streaming resources are launching and evolving so quickly that some parents feel ill-equipped to help their children use them safely. When discussions of something like the ‘Momo Challenge’ started popping it, it just heightens that concern for parents and reinforces the importance of communicating with kids about online safety.”
Behmer notes that her digital learning team members often use vetted resources to guide their work in districts, and she encourages parents to turn to them as well. “The parent guides available from these organizations can provide step by step instructions to help provide parents with detailed actions that can lead to positive learning for parents and students to keep them safe.”
Behmer and her colleagues point parents to guides and resources from several organizations to help them navigate digital safety, including:
Family Online Safety Institute- This nonprofit organization provides resources and toolkits for parents to use when talking with their children about digital safety.
Connect Safely - The information from this resource is written by parents, for parents. Their resources can help demystify apps, services and platforms that kids are using. Common Sense Media - - Another independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to the digital safety of kids. They have family engagement resources parents might find helpful.
At a minimum, Behmer suggests: 1 - Create a plan. “There are so many advantages to using technology to enhance learning for students,” says Behmer, “but it needs to be incorporated in a thoughtful and planful way. Set age-appropriate time limits, guidance on what can be viewed and what cannot, and stick to those rules.”
2- Establish boundaries. Beyond setting time limits for young people, parents also need to change the settings and access levels of many tools to help ensure their children aren’t unintentionally opening themselves to content that may be inappropriate. In YouTube settings, parents can turn on ‘restricted access’ and turn off ‘suggested auto-play’, or the scroll of suggested content that will appear next to what a child is watching. YouTube also has a kids version that offers additional filtering and buffering of its content.
3 - Monitor access. Behmer notes that there is no foolproof way to ensure you’re screening all content your child is accessing, but there are many ways to keep track of what a child is watching. “Regardless of the validity of this particular challenge, there have been other unsafe challenges and there likely will be more. Parents can and should have access to a child’s device and accounts and should regularly review the viewing history and applications,” she adds. “If something is inappropriate, report or block it to help reduce the likelihood of that content surfacing again.”
“Make sure you have conversations with your child about using online tools and resources safely,” added Behmer. “If you have younger children, gently mention that they should be sure to talk with their parents or teachers if they encounter something that is scary or strange. Parents of older children should have an even more honest and open dialogue about keeping themselves safe online. No matter what the age, parents should let students know who to go to when they come across something that isn’t appropriate online.”