The "Momo challenge" – a hoax, but potentially distressing

You may have heard about the so called "Momo challenge"? Or if not then your pupils almost certainly will. The rumours suggest that messages with dangerous ‘challenges’ are circulating through WhatsApp relating to self-harm. While it’s a relief that the challenge is in fact a hoax that’s gone viral, the idea of this alone is likely to cause children distress — not helped by amplification in the media.

Articles on the BBC website and in The Guardian provide a handy explainer of how the hoax came about and the facts behind it. These sources will help dispel concerns your pupils may raise with you.

Beyond this, as with any such potentially distressing news — whether real or fake — you should consider these important points when discussing such episodes with pupils safely and effectively:

  • Present the facts, avoiding referencing any particular site, ‘challenge’, or source that might actually lead pupils to investigate further. For example, that there are sometimes social media ‘challenges’ that are potentially very dangerous, upsetting or scary. Sometimes these are real and sometimes they’re hoaxes (made up to mislead or trick people).
  • Avoid giving details that might inadvertently inspire or motivate pupils to do the very thing you’re aiming to prevent, for example explaining what a particular ‘challenge’ entails
  • Always avoid using shock tactics, fear or guilt — this is an ineffective approach in PSHE and could cause unnecessary distress, possibly preventing pupils from making disclosures after the lesson
  • Signpost reputable sources and the importance of always checking the reliability of sources
  • Ensure your PSHE education programme develops critical media literacy skills in addition to teaching rules for online safety

This kind of hoax is becoming more prevalent and more sophisticated, which means we all — pupils included — need to become more savvy at distinguishing fact from rumour. PSHE education is also important in this regard as it supports children and young people to be critical consumers of information. We have collaborated with the Guardian Foundation, the National Literacy Trust on NewsWise, a news literacy project for primary children, which aims to support this work — visit the newswise site for more information on this work.

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