You might have seen reports that a WhatsApp based game Momo Challenge has allegedly claimed its first victim in India. The Momo challenge is reminiscent of the deadly online game Blue Whale Challenge, which happened last year. Typically such kind of news spreads like a wildfire on WhatsApp groups and parents are worried about what to do.
Although there is no clear evidence of death due to Momo Challenge in India, there are many questions that are raised by such reports.
Why do kids fall prey to online games?
How can parents protect kids so they are not vulnerable to online predators?
What are the signs that the kid needs help?
Dr. Harish Shetty, Psychiatrist, Mumbai advises parents on how to monitor and restrict access to the digital world and alerts them on what kind of behaviour changes you should watch out for.
Kids these days have easy access to the digital world with smartphones, which makes it is easy for them to try out different games online. The adrenaline rush and vulnerability to take up challenges, makes them get hooked to such games. Apart from games, social media networks also put kids in a vulnerable position where they can be easily contacted by strangers. A simple messaging app on the phone ups the risk of cyber grooming by these predators.
But it is the responsibility of the parents to intervene, prevent phone addiction and set some ground rules for kids to follow. Here are few tips from Dr. Shetty that can help you keep kids safe online and protect them from threats like the Momo challenge:
1. Monitor the use of gadgets: Be it school projects or safety concerns, kids these days have mobile phones. However, being on a phone 24X7 playing games, browsing or chatting is not a good thing. Hence, it is the responsibility of the parents to keep a tab on what kids are doing on mobile phones. And if possible allow them to use phones under strict supervision.
2. Avoid smartphones for kids: Yes, it is best to not give your kids smartphones but a normal one, which can can be used to call and message. This is because smartphones increase the risk of falling prey to deadly online games. If you plan to give a smartphone, then download only the necessary apps and not all. Also, it is wise to instal software to block unwanted sites and monitor browsing.
3. Say NO to nighttime mobile browsing: It is important to follow sleep hygiene, which means have a good quality sleep. This not only helps the kid to be alert but also ensures sufficient rest needed for the mind and body.
4. Set an example: Kids learn most of the things from their parents and family. So if you want your kids to limit the use of mobile phones, then you have to lead by example. Avoid using mobile phones excessively when at home, unless it is needed to help your kid learn from your deeds.
5. Educate them: Remember, kids will have access to the digital world in school and via friends and not just using a phone or tablet. Rather than scolding a kid or teenager and snatching a mobile phone away from them, it is important to educate them about using the internet safely. This goes beyond monitoring their browsing history and actually teaching them about the right and wrong way to engage with people online.
6. Do not gift gadgets: Most parents tend to gift gadgets as an appreciation for good grades, however, this is not a right thing. Although mobile phones are a must, it can lead to mobile addiction in the long run. The rule applies to all gadgets including video games, tablets, music players, etc.
7. Communicate directly: Talk to your kids about their everyday activities and how they feel at school. This can help you to gauge about their interests, thoughts, and behavior and know about the signs of feeling low or depression at an early stage. Hence, if you sense anything awkward in their behaviour, then do talk to their school teachers and counselor. Also, when it comes to using mobile phones, you do not have to hand hold your kids but be firm in your decision to limit the use of mobile phones.
Do not ban mobile use all of a sudden but slowly minimize the mobile usage. Moreover, you can also divert their attention by engaging in hobby classes or outdoor activities.
Signs that you need to consult a psychiatrist
In India, most parents are reluctant to take their kids to a psychiatrist as mental health is a taboo topic. Kids are vulnerable and might take extreme steps due to various reasons such as bullying at school, fear of failure or stress during exams. Sometimes, kids are unable to cope with these stressors and might need extra help. Hence, consulting a psychiatrist is a must to decode the cause or trigger and also treat the condition.
You should take your kid to a psychiatrist, f your kid:
-Stays alone most of the time.
-Locks up the room all the time.
-Prefers staying in the dark.
-Loses interest in things, which he/she usually likes to do.
-Doesn’t mix up with friends and family.
-Doesn’t like attending family functions or meeting friends and relatives.
-Doesn’t want to eat food or prefers eating alone.
-Doesn’t respond to call to have food (poor appetite).
-Stays awake at night.