The Momo Game: Understanding Risk Factors

Momo is the latest viral trend to be connected with teen suicides and risk-taking behaviours by local and international media outlets. While there haven’t been any reported cases of children in Australia having had interactions with the ‘Momo account’, the disturbing Whatsapp ‘challenge’ was allegedly linked to the recent suicide of a 12-year-old Argentinian girl.

“In the last few weeks, WhatsApp users have claimed to have been contacted by an unknown phone number with the image of Momo, a young woman with bulging eyes. The Momo account, according to reports, has sent disturbing and abusive messages to recipients, instructing them to follow ‘orders’.”

Momo screen shot

Click here for more information on Momo and other disturbing social media ‘games’, such as Blue Whale and Slenderman.

The Momo Game: Understanding Risk Factors

The adolescent brain is still developing the ability to comprehensively evaluate risk, which means teens aren’t always capable of understanding the relationship between an action and its consequences.

Communicating through screens is also known to lower young people’s inhibitions and make them feel emboldened to act on mean, dangerous, or otherwise problematic impulses.

Adolescence is also a time when the desire to fit in and feel accepted can motivate behaviour and decision making. These are just some of the reasons why social media scares such as Momo can lead to such devastating outcomes, especially for marginalised and vulnerable youth.

The Need For Media Literacy

The Internet has been a true game changer when it comes to raising children. It seems there’s never a shortage of concerning headlines about some new online threat that parents need to be wary of. Of course, when you’re a parent who has heard about some atrocious new data breach, social media scare or popular grooming site, being reminded that these risks are – in the scheme of things – exceedingly rare will come as little comfort.

You may hear about how rare shark attacks are, or how few fatalities have been caused by terrorist attacks, yet these are still events which trigger a strong emotive response because they play on society’s deepest fears. Therefore, it’s entirely understandable that social media trends such as ‘the Momo game’ cause so much panic among parents, despite their relative scarcity.

It’s important for parents to remember that the media often deliberately feeds into people’s fears by misrepresenting facts, exploiting emotional vulnerabilities and triggering protective instincts. As Anne Collier puts it, “because multiplying news reports refer to Momo as ‘a suicide challenge,’ police rightfully feel obligated to look for any connection when they investigate cases. Then they tell reporters who ask about a connection that they’re checking into it. That’s what happened in a case reported by the Buenos Aires Times, but we haven’t been able to find a single report of police in any country confirming that a minor’s suicide was linked to Momo”.

Your child’s safety is always the top priority, so having a conversation about the risks associated with these types of social media crazes is important. Having these discussions preemptively, rather than reactively, and helping your child to establish media literacy skills, such as being able to evaluate the reliability of information that flows through social media channels, will be their best defence.

Want to know more? This article by the Net Family News Organisation provides some detailed advice for parents on how to deal with viral media scares.

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