5 Top Tips For Protecting Your Kids Online

OK, by now I presume everyone has at least heard of the Momo Challenge that was recently doing the rounds online. The creepy image was everywhere as the hoax went viral and was broadcast across the media, which in turn exasperated the problem. The face had been used and plastered across videos and hoaxes within content aimed at children. More specifically to self-harm. Personally, I think a lot of the media coverage tanked hard with their reporting on the issue which sent things into overdrive. So what the hell happened and what can people do to protect their kids online. Here’s my thoughts anyway:

So what was the whole Momo thing?

The Momo is an urban legend crossed with a social media “game” that contains a set of challenges that get “more difficult” as each task is completed and the game progresses. This game is not innocent but plays on the fears of children and parents.

The image is actually a model created in a Japanese special effects studio called Link Factory. It took off initially in 2016 as a creepy sculpture but in 2019 it became the internet viral story of the year. Only a couple of weeks ago you couldn’t scroll anywhere on social media without seeing something related to The Momo Challenge. This viral aspect was driven by media in the form of clickbait which then, in turn, played on natural parental fear thus creating a sense of fear for children online.

The UK Safer Internet Centre called it all “fake news”, and YouTube said it has seen no evidence of videos showing or promoting the Momo challenge on its platform. Kat Tremlett, harmful content manager at the UK Safer Internet Centre, said: “It’s a myth that is perpetuated into being some kind of reality.”

These hoaxes do exist and these rumoured games have done the rounds before, remember the Blue Whale Challenge? Anyway, Momo was supposably hacking innocent children’s videos to encourage kids, to harm themselves in various horrific ways until inevitably encouraging them to kill themselves. According to experts that cover the analytics concerning YouTube this is not the case, it’s not possible to “hack” the videos, any videos that could have been seen would have been creating themselves as a standalone videos. It’s unreasonable to suggest YouTube filter all content posted to the channel, it’s open so everyone can share and videos like this don’t break guidelines because sometimes people just want a good scare. That’s not to say if children saw it, it wouldn’t be concerning it would but what’s actually happened is the clickbait journalism created the perfect opportunities for people to make exactly that content. Reporting the content at the time probably would have done the job, the content would be flagged for review, checked and deemed not child friendly and viola.

Sometimes content can slip through the cracks, videos from more adult creators have previosuly slipped through onto the child friendly platform, they were all immediatly removed once the issue was flagged.

What can we learn?

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Firstly, don’t take everything you read online as a given. I think we are in a time where social media and online reporting is in a strange place with the whole “fake news” culture. So it should go without saying that even if we are 99% sure what we are reading is from a legit source, we should still take a moment to check if what we are seeing is right. Reports that Momo hacked YouTube videos and replacing other characters or sections of the videos with these challenges. This isn’t true but when reports go out in this way some smartarses are likely to make videos targeted at this young audience and thus increasing the likeliness of seeing such content. The smarter option at the beginning, in my opinion, would have been to flag the issue early and have the content removed. Done and over before everything blows up. The content is normally automatically screened and blocked accordingly but sometimes something will fall through the cracks.

Anyway that’s one side of the story on the other hand some children could have seen some of this Momo content. That’s not good and I agree that we should do better to protect children at an early age from the darker aspects of the internet. Suggesting the services providers do can always stop everything is a big ask, anyone can make something and post it to YouTube as long as it’s within the guidelines. This type of stuff isn’t illegal, some people might want to watch crap for a bit of a scare or whatever but kids seeing it we don’t want. So we’ve been thinking about it and we have come up with a few things people themselves to protect their children online.

Tip 1 – Get iKydz

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Really I can’t recommend this one enough. We all know kids are getting their hands on tablets or phones from a younger age which is great as their learning skills to last a lifetime. With the good, there is always the bad. That’s why Irish company iKydz is a great solution to control your child’s access to the internet without being overly intrusive.

We covered iKydz at the beginning of their journey as a small Irish Kickstarter and since then they have gone on to become readily available in high street retailers like Carphone Warehouse. So iKydz is a two part concept comprising of a “black box” which very simply plugs into your modem and an app which you download to your either your Android or Apple device.

From there then you can control your home internet off your smartphone, allowing or denying access on an individual device basis. It’s actually very practical, you can do things like set bedtimes on different children, add mealtime settings, block any content you deem unsuitable like adult content. You can also set schedules and timers so you can limit online gaming to certain times and block access to sites during homework time. A really handy device that gives you more control and safety. They also come in at a decent price with the standard box costing €99 and the Pro model which has extra ports for
€139 in Carphone Warehouse or PC World.

Tip 2 – Talk to your childs school about CyberSmarties

I could tell you all about it, we’ve talked about them before and they have appeared on our podcast, we’re huge fans but here’s what was said about them on BBC’s Question Time….

Couldn’t agree more and that really just does hit the nail on the head. Why not suggest it to your kids schools as a safer alternative to Facebook. We think it’s a fantastic idea, their a great company whose already having an impact and we honestly think more schools should be taking their system on board.

Tip 3 – Keep an eye on their content

Obviously parents know their children and their capabilities best but with very young kids you want to know exactly what content they are consuming. As they become a little older we want to trust them more and to be fair some kids are bloody whizzes on tablets by the age of three. That’s life as children grow they will take over more interactions

You may still wish to stay physically nearby to offer assistance and to make sure they stay within appropriate boundaries. Older children still need monitoring and boundaries, but you may wish to install a program to patrol their activities. I think it’s fair to say here when it comes to your child you will know the level of monitoring you feel is appropriate versus their age.

Tip 4 – Keep the lines of communication open

An oldie but a goodie. Let your kids know that no matter what happens on the computer they can and should come talk to you about it. Sometimes kids might just break something, remove an antivirus, delete something important or stumble upon the wrong content. No matter what it’s better you know so you can fix the problem quickly.

Set up the boundaries and change them as the child develops but the open communication is key, it can protect your child, your computer and potentially your data.

Tip 5 – Secure games consoles

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Not directly Momo related but a good tip nonetheless. Kids love their games and gamers are some of the most popular people on the planet right now thanks to the phenomenon of Twitch. The big streamers/e-sport players earn huge wages but it’s also coincided with a rise in gaming addiction, anyway that means you don’t want them burning through your wages on downloadable content like some of the horror stories we have heard. This means securing the PlayStation or X-box.

Martin wrote a proper article on the topic where he goes into full detail but essentially nowadays we download games straight to the console from the online store. That means paying with the debit card which means loading it onto the console. Now there are parental controls that can be put in place so when the little ones are downloading a new game, they can’t then accidentally use your card on in-game purchases. Take Martin’s advice and use the parental control, and if you want to know how then fire away.

That’s it really, I think if parents want to be safer with their children online it can be done. It just takes a little time and patience. hopefully this helps any concerned parents and if you have any tips or advice you would like to share, then please give us a shout.