Don’t Fear the Momo
By Michael Reisman, M.Ed.
Director, HCYMCA Early Childhood Education
Last week the Momo came back. If you have a school-age child you undoubtedly heard about it and may have received communication from your school warning you about the mysterious internet hack reported to be appearing in online games and streaming apps. It was all over the news. It was initially reported that the Momo Challenge appeared as a creepy floating mask head in a game or video assumed to be safe (YouTube Kids, for example). The Momo reportedly instructs the viewer to do things that commit harm to him or herself or others, and to keep it secret from their parents. Reports conflict as to whether those accounts are real, but it is confirmed no child has been hurt or committed crimes as a result of seeing the Momo. It has also been reported that the initial claims about the Momo and other child-app/streaming hacks instructing harm were a hoax.
HOWEVER, as a result of the hype and attention the image representing the Momo has garnered, many copycats and pranksters have continued the hack by simply inserting the creepy face, along with creepy sounds, into children’s games, videos and apps. It does not issue directions, it is just frightening and disturbing, often sending the young viewer to mommy or daddy in tears. This exact scenario was recounted to me by a local parent only a few days ago. I do not believe the current state of Momo is an actual threat, but it should be taken seriously. However, there is an UPSIDE, which is the point of this article.
Last week, when it was all the buzz, my eight year old son came home from school and simply stated, “I’m not watching YouTube ANYMORE!” Well that’s all I needed to hear. Simply put, even though I am an educator and fully aware of the national childhood screen time crisis, I am also a parent and human. Although my son is not a player of console-based video games, he has been occupied every day since Kindergarten by a Samsung Tablet and IPod Touch, which I gave him, of course. First we allowed it as a fun novelty. The next thing I knew, it became one or two hours a day. I‘m embarrassed to admit it, but that’s how it developed. Whether you’ve got one child (like me), or a whole softball team growing up in your house, you know that any quiet time for mom or dad is very valuable and RARE. We are human beings, living in a crazy post-technological society, trying to raise children in a very complicated world. It’s stressful. It may not be your grandfather’s huddled-masses-walking-to-school-uphill-(both ways)-in-two-feet-of-snow stress, but it’s OUR stress nonetheless.
It may seem ironic, but I truly appreciate the upside to the Momo situation. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on the amount of screen time my own child has and it has created an awareness in my son. The truth is, most of our children spend too much time staring into nothing, from a very early age, which is doing their brains more harm than good. I’m secretly grateful there’s something scaring my child away from YouTube Kids, Minecraft and Netflix (which has not been hacked). I’m writing this on a Snow Day. My son and the neighbor kids have built igloos outside and a fort in every room in my house. It’s a great way for an eight year old to spend the day. Now, if I can only get him to love reading…
At the Hunterdon County YMCA Child Learning Center and Milford Preschool we adhere to strict MINIMAL SCREEN TIME policies in our classrooms. The only exceptions are the classroom computers used for educational reading/math games and building computer skills. The same cannot be said for all childcare providers. Give us a call or look us up online to learn more about all the quality experiences we provide INSTEAD of screen time babysitting. I’m very proud of the quality program we offer and the learning that happens at the Child Learning Center and Milford Preschool.
On the Momo Challenge:
Published Screen Time Research:
More time Reading, less time Screening: