Education

Keeping kids safe in the age of 'Momo'

Parenting includes knowing what they're doing online

This image of “Momo” has popped up online, supposedly encouraging children to text a phone number to get instructions on how to hurt themselves and others. Though it’s been declared a hoax, it’s caused parents to ask how they can keep their young children safe online.
This image of “Momo” has popped up online, supposedly encouraging children to text a phone number to get instructions on how to hurt themselves and others. Though it’s been declared a hoax, it’s caused parents to ask how they can keep their young children safe online.
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A disturbing image of a birdlike woman with bulging eyes and a thin, creepy smile has haunted social media feeds recently.

The figure — of a Japanese sculpture, not a digital demon — is known as “Momo” and has been linked to a supposed online challenge that encourages children to text a phone number in order to receive instructions to hurt themselves or others.

A number of media organizations have investigated and declared the “Momo Challenge” a hoax. But that hasn’t kept scores of parents from sharing articles on Facebook and other social media sites.

It’s understandable how incidents like this scare parents, said Stacy Behmer, coordinator of digital learning and media services at the Grant Wood Area Education Agency headquartered in Cedar Rapids.

“Regardless of the validity of the challenge, it reinforces that being engaged with your child is the key to helping protect them,” Behmer said. “It gives us a good opportunity to have conversations to keep them safe.”

Behmer spoke to The Gazette about digital safety and how best to protect children online.

Ultimately, she recommends parents make sure their children know where to turn when they encounter frightening images online.

“We need to be aware that the designers and hackers and creators of these challenges understand how to maneuver around safety mechanisms,” she said.

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“It’s going to continue to occur, but that’s why being engaged with your child is the key to protecting them.”

Q: What are your credentials when we talk about digital safety? What’s a typical day at work for you?

A: I get to work with a team of digital learning consultants, and we are about working with educators around the use of digital tools in the classroom.

It could be workshop, working with instructional coaches, or just one-on-one with teachers. What devices they want to use. How they can engage kids with using devices in the classroom.

One challenge is how to really have students use devices, whether it’s an iPad or a Chromebook or a computer, to engage students in deeper learning. How do I use this device so it’s not just a glorified work sheet?

Q: What anxieties do you notice in parents whose kids have those devices, and what can they do to control what children might see online?

A: Not with everyone, but there is some anxiety with the new. Some parents these days didn’t grow up in that environment, so it’s uncharted territory for them.

We really need to take charge as an AEA and as educators to educate parents because they don’t know what they don’t know.

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Fosi.org has a great guide for good digital parenting. … It’s about creating a plan — how are you going to use the technology and give guidance about how they’re going to use those devices at home — and establishing boundaries.

What are age appropriate apps, what are those terms of service, and looking at settings for those apps.

Q: This isn’t the first viral “challenge.” What pieces of long-term advice would you give parents?

A: Parents should build a relationship so your child knows what to do if they come across something inappropriate or scary. Do they have a trusted adult to go to?

It’s even more important to speak to the younger students and younger kids. I think about my niece, if she’s on YouTube, she can flip and go to anything.

As students get older, it’s really important to monitor the apps they’re using and know the apps that are on kids’ devices and what is the purpose of it. Is it for a project at school, or is it just for entertainment?

Make sure you are where your kids are. If you have kids that are on Instagram, make sure you’re on there and have access to their account information. That’s part of parenting in a digital age.

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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