The Film and Publication Board (FPB) of South Africa is urging parents to be vigilant and closely monitor their children’s online activities, especially games downloaded from various App stores or from other online sources.

The FPB released an official statement addressing the rise in self-harming videos on various digital platforms directed at children.

“It has come to our attention that the game, “Momo Challenge” is a form of cyberbullying targeting young children. It encourages self-harm and may even lead to suicide.”

The “Momo Challenge” appears as a scary image on online platforms with requests for the user to contact “Momo” on WhatsApp through one of several contact numbers.

Reports state that the character instructs children to complete challenges they must keep secret from other people, otherwise “Momo” will kill them.

FPB’s Acting Chief Executive Officer, Dr Maria Motebang, says, “Our FPB online monitors conducted a search on legitimate and known App stores and were unable to find reference to the game. However, there is a possibility that the game may be shared on a peer-to-peer basis. Parents and guardians are therefore urged to monitor their children’s devices and report such content on the FPB hotline number 0800 148 148 or www.fpbhotline.org.za.”

There are no confirmed incident in South Africa but parents are urged to take note of the following tips to keep themselves or those in their care safe online:

1. Download monitoring Apps on your device. These Apps monitor your child’s online activities and can be set to:
– Alert you when your child logs on to an App.
– Allow you to set limits of how much time they can spend online using their devices.
– Alerts you to when your child tries to download an App.
– Allow you to grant permission for your child to download an App.
2. Always supervise your children when they are online and get to know the games they play or videos they access on platforms such as YouTube.
3. Be aware that the internet does not only offer fun activities, but also criminal activities.
4. Teach children not to share personal information and to ensure their privacy settings are always on.
5. Assist them to identify activities or people that make them feel uncomfortable and to report such activities immediately to them.
6. Teach children to block any person who bullies them and to report the situation to an adult.
7. Ensure that the devices they have access to are restricted to age-suitable content.
8. Many social networks require users to be 13 years or older. If your children have social media accounts, ensure that you check their privacy settings and who they interact with.

“We urge parents to ensure that [their children] adhere to age restrictions as assigned by the FPB. Age appropriate content goes a long way towards protecting your young ones from premature exposure to content that causes them psychological and developmental harm,” Dr Motebang adds.

A research study conducted by the University of South Africa in 2015 showed that children as young as 10 years old are being allowed to play games with an age restriction of 18 years, exposing them to gruesome and graphic violence as well as offensive language.

Children participating in this focus group were asked to explain how these games made them feel, and some gave replies such as “I feel like fighting after playing the game and someone is irritating me” and “In gaming you’re kind of in control of what happens to you personally it is scarier because what happens in a movie happens to everyone”, painting a telling picture of the effect of this immersive exposure.

Picture: Pexels

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