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Fearing student suicides, Women and Child Welfare Department issues advisory on Momo challenge

Bengaluru: The Momo Challenge has become viral now.  On Google, it is searched extensively.  Very smaller states like Sikkim, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, and Manipur are in the first five positions according to the Google data while a large number of online users from Bengaluru have also searched for this online game which according to experts forces the users to take extreme steps in life including suicide. Already several teens have committed suicide following the instructions of the game moderator. Reports of suicide registered even in states like Odisha which has a very low internet penetration ratio. Keeping all these developments in mind, the Department of Women and Child Welfare issued an advisory to all the teachers and the parents on the growing menace of this dangerous game.


According to the advisory issued by the WCD, it is reported in the media that there is new online challenge game called the Momo challenge which started on Facebook where members are challenged to communicate with unknown numbers. It went viral on social media platforms, especially on Whatsapp. The Momo Challenge consists of a variety of self-harming dares which becomes increasingly risky as the game progresses and it finally ends with the suicide challenge. The game involves challenges that encourage teenagers/ children/ any other users to engage in a series of violent acts as challenges of the game. The game inspires teenagers/ children any other user (the player) to ad unknown contacts on Whatsapp by the name of Momo. Once the contact is added, the image of the terrifying Japanese Momo doll with bulging eyes appears in contact. The game controller then entices the player to perform a series of challenges and playing the game are threatened with violent images,  audios or videos, if the player doesn’t follow instructions.


The WCD listed six signs and symptoms among this game addicted. According to the circular students who becomes withdrawn from the friends and family, persistent low mood and unhappiness, looking worried that stops him/ her from carrying out day to day tasks, sudden outbursts of anger directed at themselves or others, loss of interest in activities that they used to enjoy and visible marks like deep cuts or wounds on any part of the body of the child.


 WCD came out with a number of guidelines, pro-active measures to protect the children from the Momo challenge which include checking in the children on how things are going; asking if there have been things stressing them or that has been worried. If the child is talking about any level of distress, parents shouldn’t hesitate to ask them about changes in the mental health.


 According to the guidelines issued by the WCD, unless there is reason to believe child already knows of or has played the game, parents shouldn’t discuss the Momo challenge. “By doing so, parents increase the chance that child will search for it on their own,” informed in the advisory.


 The parents also requested to monitor the children’s online and social media activity to ensure they are not engaging with the challenge.


 Symptoms of addiction: According to the WCD advisory, unusually secretive behaviour, mostly related to their online activity, a sudden increase in the time they spend online, especially on social media, frequent changes in their device screens when the parenting approach, becoming withdrawn or angry, after using the internet or sending text messages, many new numbers in the mobile phones and the emails.


 The WCD directed parents to install a good cyber and mobile parenting software which helps parents in monitoring their children, taking reports from the children counselors of the school regularly, taking professionals to help in the event of addition and reminding the children that they will be with them always for the support.


 Meanwhile, experts believe that it is the high time to bring radical reforms in the field of online gaming. “Most of these games are created in western countries and they are taking a toll in India. Earlier Blue Whale game become fatal for tens of students across the country. Even in the remote villages, these games are downloaded. Prevention is better than cure,” says Dr. Rukmini, a child psychiatrist.


 “As per the legislation, the smartphones are banned in the school campus. But in reality, they are used extensively inside the campus. Adding to this, the pressure of academic activities are forcing the students to take up these challenges many times. These are the few issues,” she said.


 “One of the options in front of the central government is launching a joint effort to with all the affected countries. For example, Blue Whale challenge created a menace in the United Kingdom too. No country can wage war on its own. As these game developers are spread across the globe, there is the need of a joint effort by one and all,” she said.

 She also pointed out that sinking parental monitoring in the nucleus families which are in large number across the country is another challenge. “All these issues should be taken care of. In this era of free internet/ data, everything is a big challenge,” she said.

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