Knowledge is power

Kari Swanson

I received some education this week on a topic that is really the here and now. Social media. I come from a childhood of phones attached to the wall, playing Barbies in the backyard with my best friend Heidi, or Atari at her house; my first “cell” phone was in graduate school, and it was a big bag phone that plugged into the lighter of my car.

I am the first to admit that all this technology is not my friend. However, I don’t have a choice. My boys were born with tech chips (not really), and from an early age they could figure out anything gadget-related. My choices are to learn or keep my head buried in the early ’90s.

I am a parent. I want to be a good parent. I want to be a responsible parent. I want to raise responsible children. I need to learn what they, seemingly naturally, know.

What did I do this week? I entered the world of Momo. I did not want to go there. I kinda fought entering the door to this weird, creepy, whatever-the-heck-thing this is. I don’t like clowns… so, really, this thing?

My friend Erin insisted that I had to understand it so that I could somehow help others navigate this undoctrined territory. Uh, thanks, Erin?

Well, anyway, she was right (and now she has it in writing!).

The picture of Momo that was in the paper this week is actually of a Japanese statue and the actual figure that inserts itself into videos and tutorials is very similar, but not as creepy, if that’s possible.

I watched two kids’ videos — one a tutorial of a child teaching kids how to use something, and another of Peppa Pig, a popular kids’ series. Both were on YouTube. It seems to be that Momo is primarily YouTube-related, but I could be wrong. I am, after all, still learning.

After a while of each show doing its thing, Momo presented as a floating head inside a trance-like spinning black and white screen, kind of like what people use to hypnotize someone. It begins talking and, honestly, it was not scary to me.

In Peppa Pig, Momo asked me to do her a favor, which was to find a sharp object. At this point, four different pictures of sharp objects come up, and Momo explains to me that I could possibly find these in the kitchen or in my dad’s toolbox. Then two arms appear on the screen and Momo begins to tell me how to hold the sharp object and which way the sharp part should be facing with respect to the arms. She then instructs me, with the pictures depicting the sharp object on the inside of the arms, how to cut myself. She tells me that it may hurt and that this is good if it does. She goes on to tell me that, if I am doing it correctly, I will see red stuff coming out of my arms and this is great. I then see red stuff coming out of the arms on the screen. Momo instructs me I am doing a good job. She tells me that I am not allowed to tell anyone what we just did and that if I do, she will come to get me in my house while I am sleeping and will hurt my family. With that, she is gone and Peppa Pig is back on the screen.

What the heck just happened?

I go to the tutorial show and begin watching a girl showing me how to make ice cream out of a machine. A little while into her show, Momo appears the exact same way she did in Peppa Pig, black and white spinning screen and all. She asks me if I did what she asked me to do last time in not telling anyone.

Okay, how did she know I knew what she asked and that I’ve watched her? Weird AND creepy.

She again goes through showing me the sharp objects and how to cut myself and ends with reminding me that she will come to get me in my sleep if I tell anyone about her. She didn’t say anything this time about hurting my family. She leaves and the little girl is back on showing me how to make ice cream.

When I went on and read about Momo in the many articles that are out there, I realized that there are very many confusing things being said, reported and written. There are articles calling this a “hoax,” a “current trend,” and comparing Momo to the recent condom-snorting and tide-pod craziness that some youth were engaging in. Other articles are claiming that parents are overreacting and there is no need to worry.

I just saw a weird lady come onto my screen in the middle of Peppa Pig and encourage me to cut my wrists and not tell or she will come to get me in my sleep and hurt my family. NO NEED TO WORRY? Sorry, but what I saw was not fake.

Here is my take on this:

Momo is targeting our most vulnerable — little kids who still believe that monsters are real and can come into the house. Kids who, when told not to tell a “secret,” may not tell that secret. Momo is popping up while the child is watching the show that, most likely, mom or dad set the child up to watch, and they have since left the room. She does not come on immediately when an adult may be present setting the child up to watch. She seems to be part of the program, so what could be wrong with what she is telling me? After all, Peppa Pig is my friend.

I am disturbed by the smooth transition of how she entered the show and the soothing way the trance-like screen made me feel. I am more disturbed that she showed me options of sharp things and then showed me exactly how to cut myself so that I bleed. She even encouraged me to cut deeper if I don’t see “the red stuff.”

As a parent, I am disgusted that this is out there. I don’t care if it is a hoax or a current trend. I certainly do not believe that I should not worry. I just witnessed what a small child could be seeing.

That is not okay.

The scary part is that you have no idea when Momo is going to appear. Maybe she will, maybe she won’t.

Again, everything I have read seems to believe that this is isolated to YouTube. I would certainly hope that anyone related to YouTube would be trying to figure this out in order to stop it. I know nothing about hacking, virusing (if that’s a word), or interrupting a child’s show. Obviously, someone does. The fact that it is happening in different shows is not consistently happening on the same shows and that one person can watch Peppa and not see Momo and someone else can watch Peppa and see her, is definitely strange.

I showed both of my sons the pictures of Momo, what she does, how she comes onto the screen and what her mission is because she really does have a mission. Why did I do this? I am a parent that strongly believes that honesty is best and sugar coating bad things does not make the bad thing sweet; it is still bad at the core.

I believe that knowledge is power and that my boys need to know what dangers are lurking out there and how to be prepared for them the best they can.

I understand that there are parents out there that were probably upset that Momo took up the front page of the paper Thursday and that they did not want their children to see this creepy, scary picture. I ask you, would you rather your children see Momo in the middle of something they are watching, and have no idea what this thing is that is telling them to hurt themselves — and to not tell anyone because she will come in when they sleep and hurt them and their family?

Is that better than showing them the picture, explaining that “she” is not real, does not have the capability to come into your house to hurt anyone, and start a discussion on not keeping secrets that could harm them?

I choose the latter.

Would I still if had smaller children? Absolutely. Why? Because this is the target of Momo and, again, I want to raise educated children that are prepared to take care of themselves in bad situations. Have you ever warned your children of “stranger danger?” Have you told your child what to do if they get away from you at the fair or some other public place? Honestly, Momo is no different, except that we have a picture of what she looks like and know what she says and what she wants our kids to do.

Prepare your children for the things that you know are out there that have bad intent. The world is scary. The world is certainly much scarier than when I was growing up and, again, I choose to learn what my kids are into and help prepare them to navigate this scary world of social media with me guiding and doing my best.

Knowledge is power.

Kari Swanson is a Master’s level clinician with 25 years of working in the mental health field. She is the founder of CORE–Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences which is a non-profit organization with the mission to provide mental health awareness and suicide prevention education to Warren County.