With mounting news stories surrounding the dangers invading YouTube Kids and children’s games over the past couple weeks, it’s becoming clearer that the Internet is not a safe space for our kids, regardless of protective algorithms and filters.
Violence is increasing, pedophiles are infiltrating YouTube, suicide instructions are surfacing in innocent games — and all with little effective effort being made to ward off the dangers threatening our youth.
Just yesterday, Faithit covered a story on a 7-year-old child who was told to kill herself on YouTube Kids, and today’s news is just as rattling.
An Edinburgh mother named Lyn Dixon reports the encounter her 8-year-old son had with the ‘Momo Challenge,’ a game played on YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp and other platforms that encourages kids to self-harm and eventually kill themselves.
The game’s mascot is a scary face of a black-haired, bug-eyed girl who looks like an eerie twist on a character straight out of “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Link Factory, a special effects firm from Japan, created the character but claims that they have nothing to do with the suicide challenge, which has sparked outrage across the globe.
“He showed me an image of the face on my phone and said that she had told him to go into the kitchen drawer and take out a knife and put it into his neck,” Dixon told the Daily Mail on Tuesday. “We’ve told him it’s a load of rubbish and there are bad people out there who do bad things but it’s frightening, really frightening.”
The concerned mother said her son is now petrified to be in the dark, as the haunting face and dooming instructions lurk in his mind. The terror has stayed with him for months, especially after he saw the challenge appear again recently.
“It started with him not wanting to go upstairs on his own because it was dark up there,” Dixon explained. “He was terrified and wouldn’t sleep in his own bed and then we got to the bottom of it and we explained it wasn’t real.”
“It’s a big fear, that we can’t always control what he’s exposed to on the Internet,” she continued. “You read these stories about children committing suicide and we all know how difficult life is now with the pressures on children. Social media is a massive part of that. It’s horrific and we’ve got no control over it. There are controls on the phone, but it doesn’t go to the degree I would like it to because it’s what you can’t see that’s the worry.”
Thankfully, Dixon got to her son before it was too late, but many parents haven’t been so lucky.
The disturbing game has recently been linked to the death of a 13-year-old boy in Belgium who hanged himself and a 12-year-old girl in Argentina who was convinced she had to sacrifice her life for her brother.
Other countries where the challenge has been reported since last year include the United States, Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, Spain, Scotland, Colombia, India, and Pakistan. Over 130 teen deaths have been reported in Russia alone.
“The constantly evolving digital world means a steady influx of new apps and games and can be hard for parents to keep track of,” said a spokesperson for NSPCC Scotland. “That’s why it’s important for parents to talk regularly with children about these apps and games and the potential risks they can be exposed to.”
One UK school just issued another warning to parents after an alarming discovery was made that the ‘Momo Challenge’ is getting into other children’s platforms.
“We are aware that some nasty challenges (Momo challenge) are hacking into children’s [programs],” tweeted Northcott Community Special School. “Challenges appear midway through Kids YouTube, Fortnight, Peppa pig to avoid detection by adults. Please be vigilant with your child using IT, images are very disturbing.”
If children refuse to follow the directions of the creepily intimidating Momo character, they are threatened with acts of violence or death, such as “being killed in their sleep.”
Authorities encourage parents first and foremost to talk to their kids and reinforce that they have the power of choice to say “no,” in spite of the pressure.
“Reassuring a child that they can still be accepted even if they don’t go along with the crowd will help stop them doing something that could hurt them or make them uncomfortable,” said one NSPCC expert.
Don’t wait until it’s too late. Talk to your kids about the ‘Momo Challenge’ today, and share this message with the parents you know on Facebook.