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Parents unnecessarily scaring their children over Momo hoax

Parents could be unnecessarily scaring their children by trying to protect them from the viral Momo hoax, says a leading academic.

Liverpool Hope University senior lecturer in Education David Lundie thinks a "feedback loop" between a reactive media and teachers, which has seen a viral scare story with no factual basis generate news headlines, has made the situation worse.

Warnings about the so-called Momo challenge claimed that children are being encouraged to kill themselves or commit violence, after receiving messages on messaging service WhatsApp from users with a profile picture of a sinister woman with bulging eyes.

News stories about the challenge have also attracted hundreds of thousands of shares on Facebook, but experts and charities have insisted it is fake and has become a “moral panic” spread by adults.

Dr Lundie says the viral nature of the story has prompted schools to issue warnings to pupils and parents, leading to even more news coverage.

“Schools have responded because they are rightly responsible for safeguarding the children in their care, but also frightened of being the one that is thrust into the media glare,” said Dr Lundie.

“It also seems parents are actually scaring their kids more by trying to protect them in this instance. The key thing is the lack of reliable advice on this topic.”

Dr Lundie said parents and educators should use the hoax as an opportunity to have a positive dialogue with children about time spent online.

He said: “When it comes to online safe-guarding schools tend to focus on the extreme threats like grooming or Momo.

"But sometimes that overshadows the more pervasive problems of children having their privacy eroded by small scale things that may not make headlines but could be more problematic in the long term.

“Oversharing in terms of how it affects a young person’s digital footprint and how it makes peers, businesses and platforms interact with them is far more prevalent.

“My advice to parents would be to treat the digital world as part of the normal world. Not a place where there is some scary monster. 

"Rather to focus on everyday issues instead of the few extreme threats we read about in the news.”

Dr Lundie added that the digital and online world also offers positive opportunities for young people which should not be overlooked.

“It’s important to think about their kids’ online lives of course – for schools and parents to think about the creative opportunities for young people online rather than purely seeing it through a safeguarding lens.

“The challenge for schools has got to be to enable young people to become digital producers and critical consumers rather than cut the digital out of their worlds.”
* Dr Lundie's paper: Building a Terrorist House on Sand, explores the way critical media incidents shape schools' response to the Prevent counter-extremism duty. It is due to appear in the Journal of Beliefs and Values later this year.

Published on 04/03/2019