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“Momo” sheds light on online parental guidance

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A recent “hoax” video which allegedly co-erced young children to self-harm has thrown many parents’ lack of supervision under the bus.

The character named Momo is a pale, slender-faced doll with black hair, an unnatural smile and bulging eyes. She would allegedly appear in between young children’s (younger than 10) videos and “challenge” them to do harmful acts in secret, self-harm or ultimately kill themselves.

This sparked major concern among parents who frequently use mobile devices as a “babysitting” method, leaving the children to watch unsupervised. Many parents have argued that it is an easy way of keeping children out of harm’s way and that they choose “age appropriate” videos.

Despite the “Momo Challenge” being dismissed as a hoax, the issue has drew attention to the importance of educating children on how to use social media and the crucial part monitoring plays.

The Film and Publication Board Communications Manager Lynette Kamineth emphasized that as parents, keeping up with the latest trends is crucial. She explained that even education is moving into a digital space and we cannot isolate children completely.

“We’ve all become digital citizens. You can’t live without it but living with it becomes a challenge. It’s difficult because the education system encourages (using media) to study, to do research. The question is how do we educate them before it gets into their hands. As parents we really need t be involved in the online lifestyle.”

Kamineth also noted that if children are completely removed from using devices, they risk being excluded.  This could lead to isolation and feelings of rejection.

“We shouldn’t take it away completely, because this is part of forming their identity. If we take technology away completely, they could be excluded from conversation.”

Kamineth reiterated that monitoring content is vital.

“We definitely need to monitor them. As parents, as with anything in life, we need to teach them good habits and set a good example.”

With certain sites and some applications, downloading requires users to click an “accept” button. This, Kamineth said, acts as a digital signature at the bottom of a contract that users often neglect to read.

Expert on cyberbullying and founder of SaveTNet Cyber Safety Rianette Leibowitz shared the sentiment that whether it’s a hoax or not, there needs to be a balance.

You can’t say it’s too dangerous and keep your children away from it. We have to be preparing our children to be able to participate in the digital future.”

Both Kamineth and Leibowitz stressed that having an open relationship with children will help them adapt to the online lifestyle.

“It is critical that we are able to have an open relationship with our children, especially in society the way it is today. We should be able to freely speak to them about thing and for them to have that sense of comfort that if there is something in the environment or be threatening to them, they can speak to us,” said Leibowitz.

“A study done by UNISA research department showed many children have trouble many are afraid to tell parents. If we have a better relationship and they feel safe and heard, we will able to help them sooner. The sooner we start to create that dialogue, the better,” said Kamineth.

The expert advised parents to utilize technology and the apps it provides that may restrict access to certain sites.

“It’s important that children realise that parents are still parents and if boundaries are being set it’s for a reason. As much as there are threats, there are also solutions (online).We encourage parents to use that google and find which apps can assist you and use them,” advised Leibowitz.

Meanwhile, the Japanese artist who created the doll explained that it was part of an art display, meant to portray a woman who dies during childbirth.

Head of Tokyo-based firm Link Factory Keisuke Aiso, said the doll was not meant to cause harm and he has destroyed it.

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