28 Feb What are we going to do about Momo?
If you’re a parent on the internet, you have no doubt by now heard about Momo, this frightening face with bug eyes and a terrifying bird mouth that allegedly is spliced into your kiddo’s Peppa Pig cartoons on YouTube telling kids to harm themselves. (Don’t Google it; you’ll have nightmares for life.) (There’s more to this Momo business but that’s the first bit I had read about it.)
It’s become viral now, and I can’t get the evil gaping eyeballs of Momo out of my brain. I wish I could turn back time.
Two nights ago I scrolled past it on my feed. The image makes you pee yourself out of terror so naturally you pause to see what it is. And the underlying thought of your child hurting themselves is even darker than the photo itself. It haunted me and I tried to meditate the face and the thought away before falling asleep.
Yesterday I saw it three or four more times and I decided to stop checking Facebook for a few days until the meme died down. It’s hard for me to swear off Facebook entirely; I get so many messages throughout the day and part of my work duties demand a check every now and then. But I resisted the urge to scroll.
Meanwhile, I told the grandparents firmly: No. More. YouTube.
We had sworn off YouTube Kids a while back after reading a New York Times article about disturbing content and realizing that our kids had seen things we wished they hadn’t. But even with us right there in the next room, calling out, “Not that, pick something else,” on an as-needed basis — this was enough to make us say, no more. YouTube is no longer an option in our household.
The bigger, most terrifying thing is this: Suicide.
We spend all our waking minutes catching the kids before they fall down, grabbing their hand before they wander into the road, plucking choking hazards out of little hands headed for open mouths.
But this thought that the most dangerous threat is a switch in their own brain that turns to self-destruct mode — how do you snatch them away from that?
I try my best to insulate them, to build their confidence. But still they see that they can get a laugh by falling down, by hurting themselves. How far will that go?
And here comes my oldest son home from school saying he knows about Momo. All the kids are talking about it. He’s in first grade. They don’t know the words “suicide challenge,” thankfully. They think Momo tells kids to run away from their parents. But still. It terrifies me that he will learn from his peers. That the switch could be flipped. It makes me sick to my stomach.
Tonight after dinner, I talked to the kids about telling Mom and Dad. That if someone ever says to keep a secret from us, what do you do? Tell. What if they say they’ll hurt you if you tell? Tell. What if they say they’ll hurt Mom, or Ellie, or themselves? Tell. Always always ALWAYS tell. You can let the person think you will keep the secret, but you don’t keep it. You tell. Always.
Then in the bath, I talked to them about standing up for themselves. About how they are the superhero whose job it is to protect their body. Should they hurt themselves? Of course not. What if someone tells you to? No. What if someone tells you it’s what everyone wants? No. What if someone says you will do it together? No. It’s your job to take care of your body and to protect yourself.
I’m still terrified, though. I want to pack them up and move to the middle of nowhere where the internet doesn’t exist.
Because once they see something like Momo, they can’t unsee it. Once suicide is in your head, you can’t unthink it.
I know, because it’s in my head. I was hospitalized as a teen for self harm. And just like Momo’s horrible face, it never really goes out of your head. You just try to stop thinking about it. It pops up when you’re driving and you tell it to go away. You shake your head and tell Momo to go to hell.
But I lucked out, and I was raised in a different era. Nothing popped out of my cartoon to tell me to hurt myself. It’s shakeable.
Lord help me keep my kids in a bubble away from horrible thoughts like this forever and ever, Amen. How do we insulate them? How do you squash something viral?
The way suicidal thoughts pop up out of nowhere, and the way Momo began popping up in cartoons, Momo now haunts Facebook in the form of articles we are sharing to tell each other not to be scared about Momo. You try to innocently scroll through and live your life and she pops up to scare you.
They say you’re supposed to punch sharks in the nose if they come after you.
I feel like punching Momo right in her stupid nonexistent nose.
I’m hunkering down to wait it out. Can someone tell me when it’s gone and I can come back to Facebook? I miss pictures of my friends’ kids and knowing what everyone made for dinner.