Here is a a guest post from Jacq Fisch about helping her son Jacob through his fears of a what turned out to be a hyped up Internet hoax. We all want to protect kids, but we should be mindful that we may be scaring them more than we are helping if we freak out about every “dangerous viral trend” before investigating.
Schools mean well when they inform students and parents about these things, but it is important to do your own homework about issues and find trusted sources of information before jumping on the fear bandwagon.
Jacq did an amazing job mentoring her son by helping him find a mindfulness technique to calm the panic, and by encouraging him to find a more accurate source of information.
Jacq and Jacob’s story:
Kids and fear seem to go together like sunbutter and organic apple butter. Well, it does for my kids anyway. The dark, spiders, tornadoes (we live in the midwest), monsters in the closet, haunted houses, and a room full of strangers are all scary things. Even today, we might wake up in the middle of the night to find one of our two kids having snuck into our bed after a scary dream.
And as a parent, we have our fair share of fears too when it comes to kids and their digital worlds. Will they be on the receiving end of bullying online? Will they accidentally open an inappropriate picture online? Or will they find a picture of their friends all hanging out and feel excluded?
We have no shortage of fears, and a recent one had our 10-year-old Jacob in our bed two nights in a row: the “momo challenge.”
I had heard about it from some other parents and hadn’t heard the kids mention it so I brushed it off and didn’t bother to research it. Until we got a robocall from the school and an official communication about it. The kids came home full of fear that day telling us all about it.
When and What I Heard About It
When I heard about the momo challenge I was super scared because I didn’t know it was fake. When I was playing Fortnite after school and my sister (7) came up to me and said that someone in her class told the teacher about the momo challenge and to she told the whole class to talk with their parents about momo.
I was scared to death even though I didn’t see the picture because of what she told me about it. I wasn’t doing well at not being scared at that moment because I couldn’t concentrate on my sister or my game of Fortnite.
When I was going to hockey, I was scared to put my legs on the floor in the car because I was afraid momo would be there. When I was at hockey in the locker room, momo was the thing that everyone was talking about.
It was my one friend that made me sleep in my parent’s bed. He said, “I heard that she tells kids to suicide and gets them to friend momo on Whatsapp and momo will call you and give you instructions on how to suicide.”
During The Scare
I didn’t sleep well of course because of the momo challenge because I Googled momo challenge, and saw a scary picture. I got so scared that when I saw it, I slammed my computer screen down and thought I broke the computer. When I turned off the computer, I tried turning it back on again and not looking at the face and closing that chrome page. So I fell asleep late because I thought that now that I heard about and people all said scary things like momo makes videos telling kids to suicide and if they don’t momo will kill them and harm their parents.
I was worried I was going to suicide because of hearing about it.
Stopping the Scare With Meditation
After hockey practice me and my mom talked about momo and she told me to relax because I was so scared. When my mom told me to calm down she asked me if I wanted to listen to a meditation audio. After I did that, I felt a little better. It helped me change the subject. When I was at home I showed my mom a picture and she read an article about how it was all just hoax and it was someone trying to get their post retweeted over and over again.
Finally Getting Over It
When I was on my way to our consolation hockey game, I was on my phone the whole time in the car reading about momo. I read a really long article about how it is fake and that the picture is just of a Japanese puppet. When I read this, I kept reading it out loud to my mom about what it said. When I was done reading the article, I was fine because it didn’t bother me anymore. I was fine now that I read about it all being just a big hoax. I was actually happy that I found out because like my parents said that I like to seek knowledge out and find out if it is or isn’t real.
The Annoying Part
After reading the article, I was fine and then the annoying part came. A lot of people had just heard about it and wouldn’t stop talking about it. I had to keep repeating myself over and over about how momo is fake and it is just someone trying to get their post retweeted. I was happy I was doing everyone a big favor by spreading the word about it. On the bus, I had to tell everyone it was fake over and over again because they weren’t listening to me. They still thought that it was real and that if they watched it they would be told to suicide.
As a parent, different things seem to work for different situations. And what works for one scary dream doesn’t work for another. And when it comes to finding scary things online, I know it might happen from time to time.
In this particular case, teaching Jacob how to do research online, showing him how to consider the information source, and the constant reminder that questioning everything is always a good idea, plus a little patience helped calm this situation.
In the moment, however, when fear is taking over their little bodies, all I can do as a parent is help them move past the physical discomfort. During that car ride home that Jacob described, he told me he felt dizzy and like he was going to throw up. This was when I suggested a meditation. I have a few audios ready to go on my phone, so I quickly pulled one up and played it for him. He calmed right away when he started focusing on his breathing.
A grounding meditation is just one tool in my parenting toolbox to help calm the kids when they’re scared.
When the kids are scared, here are some of our go-to calm-down tools:
- Ask questions.
When we ask open-ended questions such as, “tell me more about this,” they feel heard because they have the floor to share what’s going on in whatever way feels good to them.
- Assure them we understand.
The phrase, “Thank you for telling me this, I understand,” is pure gold. It’s another way to help our kids feel understood.
- Don’t freak out.
Freaking out is never a good idea. Especially if kids are already scared. Even if I have to pause and take a breath before responding to a mini-freak out session, it serves everyone when I can meet their panic with calm. Even if I am freaking out on the inside just a little.
Kids are going to have fears pop up now and again. Even when screen time limits, boundaries, and rules fail, at the end of the day, I am their parent and I have the chance to make the world just a little bit less of a scary place for them. And more than just easing a fear, I can teach them the tools to handle fears themselves.
–Jacq Fish, author of Unfussy Mom
PS from Devorah: So helpful to hear Jacq and Jacob’s story. And isn’t Jacob an awesome writer? Obviously, there are times when things are really scary and we can talk to kids about inappropriate content they may find and how to respond. Also, there is a good opportunity to remind kids of free will, no one on a computer can “make” you do anything. If someone tries to compel you, turn it off, get a grownup and remember that YOU are in charge of you!