The Momo Challenge is a hoax. But for some local families, the fear is still real

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Momo Challenge, a scary picture that's gone viral with talks about children harming themselves, is fake, a hoax, but the problems and fear it stirred up are very real.

There's no creepy creature or voice popping up on games or YouTube Kids telling children to hurt themselves, but the scare surrounding the Momo Challenge has children and parents concerned.

"I actually saw my kids, actually looking it up, because I think they heard about the hoax, and so they were curious," Katie Morrill said.

Her children are 8 and 11 years old.

"We lost YouTube for a couple of days for that reason," Morrill said. "I think they probably were curious because they heard about it from friends or on the news even."

It's for this very reason both the Germantown and Collierville school districts sent emails to parents, citing the Momo Challenge. Germantown said it didn't have any reports of student interaction with the challenge, but the district is aware kids were discussing it.

They're offering counseling for students who are upset or affected by conversations about the Momo Challenge, and both districts used the email as an opportunity to remind parents about internet safety — a critical reminder, said pediatrician Ruth Patton with Pediatric Consultants.

"Any time you open the Internet, you're inviting anyone who's been on it into your home," Patton said. "Just as though you would not invite somebody through your front door you felt was unsafe, you need to monitor what's on the internet and what your child is seeing."

In addition to online safety, Patton said the Momo hoax also means parents may have had to discuss some uncomfortable, but serious, topics like suicide.

"I do think that you have to gauge your own child's maturity," Patton said.

Patton said parents can use resources like the American Academy of Pediatrics as a guide.

"I encourage parents to make use of those before they bring it up, just so they know how to talk about it without scaring their child more," she said.

Morrill said raising kids in an ever-changing digital world raises all sorts of challenges.

"I have children and the internet, so I think, you put those two things together, and you should be concerned," she said.

She said her biggest priority is always keeping her children safe.

WREG spoke with Collierville Schools' Counseling and Intervention Supervisor Nancy Kelley, who said they want families to be reassured about just how serious they take their children's safety.

Kelley said it's also important for parents to take some extra steps related to internet safety.

The first things parents can do are take an interest in what children are doing and watching, be sure they created appropriate settings on all devices that their children will use, monitor screen time and apps and be cautious about what they are allowed to watch.

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