The Momo Scare: The Latest in a Long List of Social Panics Online

More viral than vicious, the Momo challenge and other online hoaxes can frighten children.

You’ve seen the images online, fodder for terrifying nightmares: a woman’s elongated face with bug eyes and stringy black hair. It’s been making its way around the Internet – again – in what is the latest in a long list of social panics that have turned out to be hoaxes. But hoax or not, Momo and all the ones that came before it (Slender Man, anyone?) are scaring our kids.

In case you missed it, Momo is a creepy-looking cartoon figure that is purported to have been popping upright in the middle of YouTube videos geared for kids, telling them to harm or kill themselves or their parents. If they refuse, says the scary creature, it will come after them. Reports of Momo are nothing new – in fact, they have been circulating online for at least a year. But the most recent flare-up occurred this past month and went viral yet again.

To be clear, these are hoax videos, fueled by scared kids, parental fear, schools, educational watchdog groups, and media outlets. Just as with many past social waves of panic, it’s driven by misinformation blended with a tiny grain of truth. Momo sounds like a completely plausible scenario, as inappropriate content has indeed popped up in children’s videos, phones, and social media platforms before. That’s the grain of truth but that’s where the similarities end.

What Parents Can Do

That’s all well and good but what do you do if your child is in a panic about Momo, experiencing anxiety about not wanting to be left alone, fear of being separated from you, or even having a hard time sleeping at night? Pediatric psychologist Meghan Walls says parents should take a pre-emptive stance and gently ask their young children if they know about or have seen the image.

You can say something to the effect of: “There are some scary things that come up on phones and tablets that may be disturbing, so if you ever come across something like that, you have to let me know.” Be aware and cautious of anything your young child watches on their phone, and YouTube in particular.

If your kids have already seen this image and message and are having a hard time getting it out of their minds, do all you can to reassure them that it’s not real.

In the end, the Momo Challenge and others like it are a barometer of the current state of society, reflecting parental fears over the dangers posed to their children by social media, says Psychology Today. Momo taps into the fear every parent has had since the beginnings of the Internet, knowing that social media platforms and other online aspects are out of their control and in the hands of their tech-savvy offspring. This is simply the latest manifestation of that fear, just like creepy crowns and Slender Man.

There are many online dangers lurking out there today. The Momo challenge shouldn’t be one. However, anxiety disorders in general are real, and they have serious root causes and symptoms if left unchecked. If your child is suffering from panic and anxiety stemming from this or any other issue, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today. We can arm you with the tools to help your child.