kids

"How the ‘Momo Challenge’ saved my family."

For about a year, our entire family suffered from an addiction. This addiction stole everything from us – including aspects of our personalities and our precious time together. This addiction had become an extension of us and of our bodies – with a mobile phone almost becoming an extra limb. This screen addiction was so severe that it took a terrifying hybrid bird-lady appearing on our screens to wake us up from this monotonous reality.

I wholeheartedly blame myself. As a parent and an adult, I am in charge of protecting my children. My vivacious, funny six-year-old daughter had become irritable, secretive and emotional. My sweet three-year-old son had become a zombie – waking up in the morning and throwing a tantrum until he got his screen time fix. My husband and I had become robots, automatically scrolling through social media on our phones every second we had free. And what was worse was that we were miserable.

I would constantly try to justify this to myself. From no screen time during the week, it became only half an hour per day. Then “I just need them to occupy themselves while I cook dinner”. For my husband it was worse. He would come home from work and barely interact with the children. Either they were watching a screen or he was.

LISTEN: Aussie TV presenter Sophie Falkiner shares the rules she enforces with her kids when it comes to technology and screens.

Then one night, while scrolling through social media, I saw it. The ‘Momo Challenge’. I read the articles and instantly felt sick. How could I have let this happen? The reality of our lives hit me like I was seeing it in a movie. I was pretty certain that one, if not both of my children, had seen it because of the amount of YouTube they watch. I instantly made my husband read the article and that night we agreed things needed to desperately change.

After that, it came up on my newsfeed more than once. Some claimed it was real and their children had been subjected to it. Others claimed it was ‘fake news’ and not to get caught in the hype. YouTube itself could not find any evidence of such a thing existing. But whether it was real or not did not make it any less horrifying for me. If it was not Momo, it could have been something else.

I spoke to them both in the morning. I was careful not to reveal too much. I didn’t want to scare them. So I just generally mentioned that Mummy and Daddy found that there were some videos on YouTube that were not appropriate for children and so we would not be letting them watch it anymore.

Bre-Andria saw a terrifying character on YouTube Kids. In the clip, she explains what the character did.

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I was ready for it. The crying, the tantrums, the “please Mummy…”. But the reaction I got was not what I expected. “I know what you’re talking about Mummy.” Said my daughter. My heart sank. “She’s seen it,” I thought to myself. She then explained that sometimes she sees scary people in masks on YouTube, and while Momo isn’t what she had seen, it was still scary not knowing what she had been exposed to and how it may have impacted her.

It took a few days to get used to. My daughter did not even ask for a screen to watch. My son asked twice and after that, realised that we were serious about no more YouTube. They actually began to play with their toys again. I hadn’t seen them get out the Lego in so long. It wasn’t all smiles and laughter of course. They fought a lot! It took them a while to reignite their imaginations. But as a parent I finally felt empowered to make a change in our lives.

Since then we have connected much more as a family. We bought board games to play together, we have cooked together, watched movies together and laughed together. I can finally see my children’s personalities again. And I owe it all to Momo.

Are you worried about what your child sees on YouTube? Tell us in the comments.

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