Demystify Momo hoax for children, say experts

PETALING JAYA: Treating the Momo challenge as taboo and panicking over it would only make it more attractive and thrilling to children.

As such, parents and guardians should demystify and explain the risks of dangerous challenges or viral hoaxes like this to children if they have seen it, advises criminologist and psychologist Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat.

“It should be done in terms that the children understand.

“Adults should also be careful about how they approach the subject as it may make them more curious about it,” she commented on the Momo challenge, which has been debunked as a hoax.

The online challenge supposedly dares children to do dangerous acts, including harming themselves and others.

Even if it is a hoax or urban legend, the rumours about it alone are a cause for concern, Dr Geshina said.

“The rumours can be frightening for young children.

“It can encourage impressionable children and youths to commit risky behaviours that they wouldn’t normally do,” she warned.

As for those behind the hoax, she said the perpetrators are likely to have destructive traits and behaviours classified under anti-social personalities.

“They obtain pleasure from destroying other people and their social relationships.

“Among their modus operandi are to sow seeds of fear, encourage law violations and rebelling against perceived authority figures,” Dr Geshina said.

She said it is unlikely for the perpetrators to have a mental illness as their actions involve planned and conscious decision-making.

David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, described the purported existence of the Momo challenge as “a malicious joke intending to shock and unsettle and, as the craze gathers momentum and media hype increases, more people are going to be tempted to scare their friends or, more worryingly, use the meme to harass and intimidate.

“For parents, a threat like this can feel overwhelming as their children, who have never known a world without Internet, navigate the online world at super speed,” he said in a statement.

But “it comes as a timely reminder that as parents we need to maintain close contact with our children’s online world, and that open dialogue is the best defence against both malicious content and cyber threats, as well as not accepting/opening any content from unknown sources,” he added.

Consultant child psychiatrist Datuk Dr Lai Fong Hwa urged parents to place computers in the living room instead of in their children’s bedrooms.

“This will enable parents to keep a closer watch on what their children do online.

“If possible, parents shouldn’t provide children below 12 with smartphones. A simple handphone to make emergency calls will do,” he said.

Dr Lai advised parents to always have open communication with their children.

“Ask yourself if the relationship between you and your kids is positive enough for them to tell you about things they are worried about.

“If it isn’t, try to repair the relationship,” he said.

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