By Andy Cohen, a Psychoanalytic Candidate, Community Art Counsellor, artist and mother of 2. She is also the author and illustrator of Wish You Were Here, a children’s book which explores loss and parenting with a light-hearted touch.
Momo is this year’s boogeyman. Creeping everyone out and sending parents into a panic. Just like the chain letters in the 80’s and age-old class rumours, the Internet has it’s own way of spinning information and generating huge anxiety. Leaving us parents alone to make sense of (not only the facts) but also all the difficult feelings it raises up in us.
So Momo – Who Are You?
Maybe “WWW” shouldn’t stand for the World Wide Web, but should rather stand for “World Wide WORRY”. Prompting some of this is the Momo Challenge, where the freaky Momo character is said to be hacking into YouTube cartoons and challenging kids to seriously hurt themselves. Momo worms through code, splices into kid-friendly shows and does very bad things. It’s not clear if it’s a hoax or not. Many reports reference eyewitness accounts while YouTube still maintains there is nothing factual to back up the claims. But it actually feels like we are way beyond that debate right now. Because while everyone is scampering around trying to protect young eyes with parental controls and screen-time limits … the real collateral damage seems to actually be us parents. We are the ones left traumatized and anxious and unsure what to make of it all. So besides banning them from YouTube for life, what else can we do about Momo?
Step 1: Figure out the real reason why Momo scares you
Besides a hacker, what else is Momo? Well, Momo represents all the stuff that parents worry about. Because let’s face it, being a mom is in itself, damn scary. But maybe these kinds of viral events rattle other unknown worries that live deep inside us. Unfair questions like: Could I be better? Am I somehow at fault? Am I doing enough? Not stuff we really want to be thinking about, right? But there comes a time when we really have to. Because otherwise the Momo’s of the world will always run our lives and infiltrate our parenting decisions. So control of Momo, begins with confronting our own fears.
Step 2: Unpack your emotions
We all have our own anxieties lurking inside. Sometimes we think about them, mostly we don’t. This is because our minds are like an iceberg: The small tip peaking out of the water is what we are actually aware of… while the huge bulk beneath the surface is all the stuff we would rather not know about. All we do know is that we are anxious. When it comes to Momo it is so important to check your own headspace because it is very possible that a lot of the hype is ‘inside’ and not ‘out there’. Sitting with those feelings, albeit scary, can make all the difference. Says Trauma Therapist Peta Feigin, “Encouraging conversation around this can help pinpoint what you are holding and this will begin to determine what is really being experienced.” This dialogue (first and foremost) starts with ourselves and someone who can listen.
Step 3: Turn off the filters
The Internet and our emotions have something very important in common – filters. Just like websites block harmful content and let other info through, our minds do the same. It blocks all the stuff we are worried will overwhelm us. This is all in service of protecting ourselves from stuff we don’t want to think about. What often gets blocked behind that firewall though, is the real understanding of why something is bothering us. So our emotional filters don’t always serve us. Like when Momo jumps out and we react in fear without thinking- forwarding warnings that only keep the fear alive and out there – really fixing nothing. This is a dangerous game. And I wonder if the need to click and ‘share’ is also an attempt to ‘send away’ uncomfortable feelings too. The good news is that once we have unpacked our own feelings and really understand our reactions a little better, we will silence Momo for good. Not with filters but with real, honest perspective.
Step 4: Move forward
Having kids is a vulnerable journey because it reminds us of our own oldest and un-friendliest Momos. But once we have unpacked our own emotions and acknowledged the source of the worry, we will be armed with a real understanding of what was causing the stir. This allows us to switch off the unhelpful filters and say goodbye to Momo for good. Freeing up space to make sensible decisions like educating our kids on the powers and pitfalls of the Internet… and leaving it at that.