Like all parents with school-age children, I received the district heads-up letter about the Momo challenge. By now most have are familiar with the strange, creepy face of the Momo character and the internet storm it has created. My eldest had heard about it, while my youngest had not. I passed on the heads-up. They shrugged. There are just so many wacky things out there, my eldest said.
True. The many things that lurk in the virtual darkness of
the internet are not reduced to Momo or another challenge. It’s an ongoing
thing. There are controversial videos and memes that are inappropriate for kids
but they access anyway because they are there; there is pornography (see Katie
Neustaeder’s column from last week); there are violent or troublesome-imagery
games parents sometimes approve as OK because ‘so many people are doing it so
it must be fine’ – which only confuses things.
We can all agree that whoever created Momo has a sick,
twisted mind, but then again, that is the category we can (almost) place so
many of today’s online happenings, including the addicting features of apps and
games. As we know, children respond scarily well to that and get hooked easily.
The reality is, the internet murkiness and disturbing at
times content will not go away. I say this with profound sadness. I grew up
without the internet and loved it, and I love it even more now,
retrospectively. It had all the magic in it a kid could want.
One of the reasons for it was nature: I was outside a lot.
Aside from time spent reading, doing homework, or helping my parents with various
chores around the house and garden, time was spent outside, rain or shine, with
or without other kids, but to be fair, lots of it with kids because that’s what
was considered the norm for children.
The challenges of those days had to do with climbing trees,
riding bikes up crazy hills, being delegated to do dares as we were all sitting
around a fire on a given late summer evening (when you live near a cemetery and
the theme of the night is ghosts, you have to conjure a decent amount of
courage to overcome the ‘no way I am doing this.’)
Now mind you, we weren’t instructed by my parents on every
aspect of safety but given the occasional advice on what is safe and what not,
and why. Nor did they have to sign a waiver if we were at somebody’s house climbing
trees and building forts (with real tools, by ourselves) because it was part of
the picture: kids did real things, and they did a lot of problem solving
through various activities. Running into mischief added its own educational quotient.
What made it so darn good? For one, when you are around your
significant adults and do various things alongside them, you learn as you go.
They’ll stop you from doing this or that, until you learned the safe way to do
it, but they would let you try things that were not deadly so you could make
mistakes too. Hence the ongoing challenge of learning things. The best two things
about that was that you really strived to learn how to do it right, and then it
felt pretty good when you could put your skills to work when the situation
called for it.
We went up on the hills near my house and we went to the local
swimming pool in the summer. Being out and about and learning so many of those ‘invisible’
like skills by osmosis really, was the best and most valuable gift that I was
The times have changed and there was nothing any of us could
do to stop the evolution. With the good (and the internet has brought a lot of
that, everyone agrees,) came the bad, and this, again, no amount of vigilance
from parents or responsible adults can stop.
The one thing we can do, and no one can change that, save
for our own decision to not do it, is to spend enough time with our kids and
teach about balance and healthy challenges, not by preaching to them but by exposing
them to situations where they can experience that. Indoors and out.
If adults take time away from the internet and screens in
general and instead dedicate it to spending it together with our kids, there is
a chance they will get to experience some of that magic that the ‘no internet’
kids once experienced.
Any time spent together inside or outside, be it hard work
that brings in both frustration and a sense of accomplishment, or fun times
spent having adventures of all kinds, such as camping, hiking, and exploring any
given corner or nature – there is a wealth of goodness and magic there waiting
to grow. We have the means to challenge our children in a way that helps them
grow confident and able to discern. It’s no perfect solution, but it’s
something that no one loses anything by trying; on the contrary.
It’s been said many times: you cannot change the world
around you but you can change how you react to it.
Now that’s a challenge worth taking.