MANILA - Online challenges have long been trendy among netizens. They can be entertaining and even helpful such as the ice bucket challenge, which paid for ALS disease research.
But parents from all over the world are now raising the alarm about a so-called “Momo Challenge,” which has allegedly caused a few children to harm themselves.
Authorities have started investigating the reports, with one death in the Philippines supposedly linked to the challenge.
However, some fact checking groups and organizations have claimed that the challenge is a hoax.
Regardless if it is a hoax or not, parenting and security experts believe that this is an opportunity to discuss measures to protect children from dangerous online content.
Dr. Michele Alignay, a psychologist and digital parenting expert, said parents have a bigger responsibility.
“If government agencies and even YouTube can’t control this… We as parents need to do our part,” she said in a phone interview.
Alignay said the challenge or the stories seem to target children who are too young to distinguish right from wrong.
“Parents should know if their children are discerning,” Alignay said, explaining that they should be confident that their children would be able to tell them if they see something online that made them feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
She said young children should not be given their own gadgets and instead allow them to access shared computers so parents can manage their screen time.
DISCUSS, DON’T HIDE
Alignay also said parents should be ready to discuss the “Momo challenge” with their children.
“We want our children to be informed, not ignorant,” she said. “They already hear about it from friends. Use the news to teach them how to be critical about media.”
More importantly, children should have activities other than online games and videos.
Mom blogger Noemi Lardizabal-Dado also talked about the need for parents to be as tech-savvy as their children.
She said parents should not have panicked upon hearing about the “Momo challenge.” Instead, they should research to learn what is fact and what is fiction.
“This (challenge) is normal for kids. They are eager to see things. They are curious,” she said.
She said that while her children grew up in the early days of the Internet, she was able to teach them self-control when using technology.
FAMILY MEDIA PLAN
A media plan will be helpful to set house rules. Parents can visit websites like healthychildren.org to craft their own family plan, which includes rules about screen time and places in the house where gadgets are not allowed.
Such websites give recommendations about screen-free zones and device curfews. Parents are encouraged to “co-view” and “co-play” with their children instead of leaving them alone.
“It’s really common sense,” Lardizabal-Dado said, pointing out that parents don’t let their children go out on the streets alone or talk to strangers. Why should they be allowed to navigate the digital world alone?
Both Lardizabal-Dado and cybersecurity consultant Henry Lee believe that the “Momo Challenge” could involve spyware.
“It’s a form of cyberbullying and at the same time phishing,” Lee said.
He explained that children who access apps like Whatsapp to contact “Momo” could have their digital information and even location compromised.
“They steal that information and sell it over the Internet,” he said.
PARENTAL CONTROL APPS
To prevent this from happening, Lee recommends the use of parental control apps such as Google’s FamilyLink.
The free app allows the parent to locate their children through the GPS on their gadget. It tracks the time spent of the child on different apps and controls their screen time.
The parent can even delete access to certain apps and set restrictions for search engines.
Lee said those who are willing to spend can buy apps that will allow parents to see what their children are seeing on their gadget screens.
He said this should be done with the consent of the kids.
In the end, he said, it’s about reciprocating trust. Parents trust their children to use their gadgets wisely, and children trust their parents to grant them access to their accounts.