How to protect children from the 'Momo' challenge

The ‘Momo’ challenge is currently sweeping the internet
The ‘Momo’ challenge is currently sweeping the internet

Parents have been urged to talk to their children about the alleged existence of the ‘Momo’ challenge, a disturbing online ‘suicide game’ that encourage young people to hurt themselves – and each other.

The challenge first started doing the rounds last summer, but the warnings about the game have been gathering pace more recently thanks to concerns raised by parents and police via social media.

Momo is a creepy looking, doll-like character with bulgy eyes that targets young children online.

The doll encourages them to add a contact on messaging service WhatsApp, then bombards them with violent images and dares.

Parents have reported that the character encourages them to self-harm with the final post telling them to take their own lives.

Some reports claim that children have been targeted by people posing as ‘Momo’ on YouTube. But police believe that the character is actually being used by hackers to harvest information.

In a post on Facebook, Craigavon police explained the game and its origins.

It is understood the original artwork used by the hackers has been taken from a designer in Japan who has no connection whatsoever with the challenge.

The post goes on to say that creepy as she looks, ‘Momo’ “isn’t going to crawl out of your child’s phone and kill them.’

It sites a similar example of a game called ‘Blue Whale’ and warns that there will be others in the future.

The police go on to urge parents not to focus purely on ‘Momo’, but instead make sure they know what their children has access to online.

What else can parents do to keep children as safe possible?

“Knowing what your children are up to online can be a constant battle of trust, especially when we need to ensure that children understand the real importance of not giving away personal information to someone they do not know,” says Jake Moore, cyber security specialist at ESET.

“It can sometimes be very challenging for parents to keep up with the fast moving digital age but communication still plays a vital role when it comes to teaching children about the real risks of the internet.

“Adding someone on WhatsApp may seem harmless or even fun at first but it can be very damaging in the future once they are a “contact”, especially if this new connection then asks you to act out something you usually would not feel comfortable in participating in.”

Talk to your children

“Have regular conversations with your child(ren) – making them aware of how to be safe online,” David Emm, from cybersecurity and anti-virus provider Kaspersky Lab says.

“Agree which sites are appropriate for them and ensure they understand the reasoning behind this. They also need to know that they can – and should – confide in a trusted adult if they experience something upsetting whilst online.”

Teach them the no-share rule

While we grown-ups might be well aware about the dangers of sharing information online, children might not be. “Remind your child not to give out personal information or content to anyone online,” David says.

Activate safety settings

“Parental controls can be installed to help prevent children from viewing age-inappropriate content,” David says. “In the Apple App Store, you can create a PIN code to allow purchases of apps.”

Check your privacy

“Any social platform — be it Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or others — requires attention when it comes to protecting personal data,” explains a spokesperson for McAfee.

“For kids: Wipe social profiles clean of any personal information such as school name, age, address, phone number, email, location, and any other personal content.”

Mute, block, then report

When in doubt, report. “Make use of the mute, block and report features – This will protect them from a lot of harmful content,” says David.

Follow through

Be a firm, focused digital parent. “So much of parenting is spent communicating goals, but effective parenting happens in following through with those goals,” advises a spokesperson for McAfee. “Don’t just communicate the digital risks; follow through to make sure your child makes the hands-on changes.”

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