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When Your 8-Year-Old Asks You About The Momo Challenge

How to talk about disturbing stuff on the Internet (or anywhere else).

Source: Pro-Vector_Shutterstock

The host of a popular morning show here in Boston texted me last week asking if I could help him figure out how to talk to his 8-year-old son about The Momo Challenge, the hoax being shared via WhatsApp and other messaging services. (This fictitious viral game, which was claimed to have encouraged violence and self-harm, is frightening parents.) Talking to him and his co-hosts on the air reminded me of the most important advice to give people when it comes to talking to our kids about difficult things: talk less, listen more. While it can be comforting to us to prepare some sage words to pass onto our kids, the best thing we can do when we are concerned about something they are seeing, reading, or hearing about is to listen to them. We really can’t know what to say until we understand more about their understanding of and reaction to something in the first place.

So if you need to start a conversation like this, bring the topic up neutrally and succinctly. Adults tend to be wordy. Perhaps something like: “Have you heard of this thing called The Momo Challenge?” Then ask for information: “What do you think of it?” And bite your tongue. I also recommend mostly avoiding the F-word: Feeling. Asking your kids how they feel about something is often a conversation stopper. Ask what they think about something and you may well be rewarded by having a chance to hear their perspective, their point of view, or perhaps even what worries or concerns them about something like The Momo Challenge.

In this case, the host’s third grader came home from school last week and asked his parents directly about The Momo Challenge. So much for protecting our young ones from hearing about scary and confusing stuff on the Internet. When we get thrown a curveball as parents in a situation like this, again, the best advice is to go into full-on listening mode. Sure, we can provide perspective and answer any questions our kids may have to the best of our ability, but it is actually more important to simply ask questions, reflect what you hear from them and show interest in hearing more.

This advice actually applies to all disturbing or confusing content on the Internet or anywhere else for that matter. The irony with The Momo Challenge of course is that if we adults asked more questions before taking action we might have avoided falling prey to and perpetuating this hoax inadvertently. But when we are scared, we panic and need to take action to relieve our anxiety (even if that action is simply re-tweeting or forwarding something). In situations like this, the best thing to do is nothing. Well, nothing but listen and try to gather information that will then put us in a better position to take action if needed.