In case you missed it, the Momo challenge was a hoax. There was never a terrifying creature popping into kid-friendly YouTube videos or on WhatsApp telling children to kill themselves. In fact, there are no corroborated reports that any children killed themselves due to these videos or this rumor. None.
“The main problem was not the phenomenon itself but that professionals and parents were sharing Facebook posts about Momo without checking on its validity,” noted Carmel Glassbrook, the manager of Professionals Online Safety Helpline. “It has become a viral topic, founded more on scaremongering headlines than well-researched facts.”
Benjamin Radford, a folklorist and research fellow at the Committee for Skeptic Inquiry, told Rolling Stone that these trends are “part of a moral panic, fueled by parents’ fears in wanting to know what their kids are up to.”
It makes sense that parents would take something like the Momo challenge seriously. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in people aged 10-24. According to the CDC, a nationwide survey of high school students in the US found that:
- 16% of students reported seriously considering suicide
- 13% reported creating a plan
- 8% reported trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey
- Each year, approximately 157,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 are treated Emergency Departments across the U.S. for self-inflicted injuries.
“Family therapists know that suicidal thoughts come from a child who is not communicating what they are experiencing in their lives,” Santa Monica-based psychotherapist and counselor, Margie Mirell, tells Parentology. “Somewhere in the child’s or teenager’s inner world they do not know exactly what they are feeling, but they are wanting to escape the feelings and thoughts they are having.”
What’s the Right Thing to Do?
Internet hoaxes happen a lot, and parents seem to fall for them every time. So, what should you do before hitting the “share” button on Facebook?
Verify the Facts – Type into Google the name of the incident, and the word “hoax,” and see what comes up. Reputable news sites will be reporting on the incident so you’ll get the facts pretty quickly. Stick with major news sources — not small blogs or conspiracy websites that may just repeat the same misinformation. Sites like Snopes.com are also good for verifying if an internet rumor is real or not.
Know What Your Child Is Watching – Set up Parental Controls on computers, devices, and streaming services. You can also check in. Find out what’s entertaining them online.
Communicate with Your Child About the Subject — Your child is likely to hear the same rumors you are, so give her or him the facts. In a case like the Momo challenge, it can also open up an opportunity for parents to discuss suicide with their child.
“It’s crucial that the parent not belittle or minimize these thoughts and feelings,” Mirrell cautions. “This is this child’s inner world, not the parents! The more you can get them to talk about it, the better for all.”
Feel free to share your feelings about suicide with the child, but do so with the understanding that “all feelings and situations can be solved without escaping this world,” Mirrell says. “Getting your child or teenager to change their focus after talking is very important.”
One easy way to do that is to offer some kind of physical exercise — perhaps even something you can do with your child. “Exercise distracts the child from their problems, raises endorphins, and releases the cortisol that was created by the stress your child was experiencing.”
If the depressive or anxious thoughts appear overwhelming, do not hesitate to seek immediate professional help. You can also contact that National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for assistance.