My social network has been buzzing with chatter about Momo, the creepy internet character making the rounds on social media.
Parents have been warning each other that Momo is popping up on children’s YouTube videos and various messaging apps, instructing kids to perform dangerous tasks or even killing themselves.
I first heard of Momo sightings last summer. It was all anyone talked about for a week or two, and then for months, the "threat" seemed to go away. Now, though, Momo is back. Worried moms and dads are taking to social media to warn one another to protect their children.
But, it turns out, there's no real evidence the Momo Challenge actually exists. YouTube, schools, and law enforcement agencies across the globe believe it's all a viral hoax -- an urban legend perpetuated by parents who continue to repeat the news.
While Momo might not be as big of a threat as it was made out to be, the concern it has stirred up among parents isn't necessarily a bad thing. The internet can, in fact, be a dangerous place. Sure we can put up all the parental filters we want, but that doesn't mean we can turn a blind eye to what our kids are doing online.
The Momo Challenge buzz is a good reminder that we need to be vigilant when it comes to what our kids are doing online.
Steps to good digital parenting
Here are six steps the Family Online Safety Institute recommends taking in order to be a good digital parent:
1. Talk to your kids
Your child is still learning to make good decisions on their own -- whether they're 3 or 17.
This is where you come in.
Talk to them early, and often, about peer pressure and why they should resist it. Be open and direct. Remind them that they should never do anything they are not comfortable with -- online or offline. Let them know to tell you if someone asks them to do something that they think is wrong and not to talk to strangers online. With all the craziness in the world these days, you really can't remind them of this enough!
2. Educate yourself
Not familiar with a game your kids love? Learn how to play it! Hear your kids talking about a new social media app? Learn how to use it! Search online for anything you don't understand -- there's a wealth of information out there about almost every app and game created. You might find that you enjoy the same games or apps your kids do -- and it might open up whole new lines of communication between you!
3. Use parental controls
Almost every online platform offers parental controls to help you restrict the types of content your child can view. Use them and check periodically to make sure they're working.
4. Set reasonable time and usage limits
Set rules about how much screen time is acceptable and what your kids are, and aren't, allowed to do online. The Family Online Safety Institute suggests putting a family contract in place that includes sanctions if agreed-upon limits aren't followed.
5. Be present
As the Family Online Safety Institute put it, "Friend and follow, but don't stalk." What does that mean? It means if your child is old enough for social media, you should "friend" them -- but respect their space, and don't be the parent who comments on every photo! You should also talk to your child about what's appropriate and what's not appropriate to share online -- from personal information to photo choices.
6. Be a good role model!
You can talk to kids all you want about limiting screen time, but if they see you on your digital devices all the time .... well you're saying one thing, but certainly sending a different message! When it's time for the kids to unplug, you should too. Find something you can do together -- go for a walk, play a game, or even curl up together on the couch to read a book.
Momo might be a no-no, but that doesn't mean we should be any less vigilant and involved in what our kids are doing online!