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Momo and Experience: The Mental Health Vaccination

I am writing this in response to the recent Momo challenge that has been making the headlines over the past few weeks. If you are not aware of the story, an online presence known as Momo (pictured above) went viral when parents began tweeting that the character was attempting to force children to harm and kill themselves. Nonetheless, it has recently been proven to be a hoax that simply allowed influencers and celebrities to believe they were making the world a safer place. Unfortunately, by spreading fear, they were in fact doing the opposite. There was no evidence that this online character ever pressured children to hurt themselves, the image associated with the story is in fact a Japanese art piece and worst of all, the same hoax actually already happened back in 2013. Samaritans stated that publicising hoaxes like this increases the risk of vulnerable people harming themselves. This highlights another example of people trying to protect their children but actually doing the opposite. Of course, this was far less likely to happen before the years of social media because the act of information going viral instantly could not happen. But rather than blaming external factors, let’s try and understand and change our internal thoughts and behaviours.

Let’s start by explaining the difference between a fact and an opinion. An opinion is a view or judgment, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. Alternatively, a fact is something that has been proven to be true. Now people are probably aware of this but there is a breakdown in what people understand to be proof of the truth. This is spoken about in one of our earlier posts. Somebody stating something on social media is not proof of the truth. In the words of the most powerful man in the world, this is often fake news. And this of course will always happen when news can be spread through the simplicity of our finger tips. But if we question the source of the news, maybe we won’t be as quick to spread the news. People generally want to help. And that’s great. But make sure your contribution is helpful, because there is unfortunately a thin line between something helping others’ mental health and something being dangerous to spread. So questioning the source of information is the immediate and more simplistic solution to protecting our future generations but now let’s speak about the bigger picture. Why parents are acting incorrectly on the basis of fear.

Parents always have the best intentions. But sometimes, they act impulsively. Just like how a child gets pushed over, doesn’t think and immediately punches the other child back, parents respond to trying to take care of their children by taking over without thinking. Referring back to evolutionary psychology, our immediate response when we are unsure about something is to stay away from it. For example, when we hear about this evil Momo app, we don’t question the source and we tell our children to stay away from their phones. If they can’t access it, it can’t harm them. And to take one step forward, they then spread this news that all parents must make sure that their children avoid this app. If they can restrict their children from accessing certain dangers, they can prevent future problems. Restriction is prevention.

Now here’s the catch. Restriction does prevent children from being exposed to future problems, but it also prevents them from learning from these problems. Therefore, it stunts their development. The child who experiences more will have more neural development and a better understanding of certain actions having certain consequences. It is embedded into their brains, just like any type of learning. Just like how our children need vaccines for physical illnesses, experience is the mental vaccine that children need to be mentally strong. Additionally, when we observe somebody else, we automatically attribute traits to that person. For example, if you see a young man reading a book with glasses, we might assume he is an academic that enjoys learning rather than an athlete. And we do the same to ourselves. When we have to cope with something in our environment, we attribute traits to how we handled the situation. For example, if there is a difficult maths exam coming up and everyone else is very worried but you remain calm and do well, you attribute that you don’t get overly worried and that you are good at maths. Now, the problematic parenting behaviour that can occur here is the parent worrying for the child and his or her upcoming exam and this worry projects onto the child. With best intentions, you restrict the child to stay in their room and study for the exam to make sure they do well. You govern their life and you take away their independence, because you know better. But knowing more is not the point here. We need to remember that we are not our children, even if we do know better. They need to learn themselves or else they will be dependent on you forever. And this applies to bullies just as much as exams. The child will not develop their self-esteem correctly if their parents have to stop the bully for them. And this does not mean you do nothing. Instead, you educate your child on how to stand up to the bully and in the last case scenario of the situation still hasn’t changed, then you can intervene. Unconditional support should always be provided but that doesn’t mean you prevent your child from difficult situations.

There is a clear problem at the moment. Children in today’s generation are far more likely to be offended, and even more dangerously, they are more likely to feel they have a mental health problem when they don't. This generation of mellenials have been coined the snowflake generation. This has led to older generations claiming that mellenials are entitled. But my opinion is that I disagree. While the world has changed rapidly around them, they are no different to young people at any other time. They have high expectations of the world and they are quite self-centred. This is not a problem. Of course, social media aids this way of being but this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It only becomes a bad thing when this is complimented by lack of experience. This then creates an overly confident, self centred person, who is clueless.

The one commonality among teenagers of all generations is that they have had similar experiences. They can’t have had very different ones because, well they are teenagers. Of course there are differences in levels of wealth and across generations, they are more exposed to marketing, social media and the attractiveness of the material world, which makes them want more external goods and it makes them more conscious of how they are portrayed to other people. But on the other hand, most children in Western cultures no longer have to work, they get an education, and they participate in extra curricular activities such as sport or drama. Even in poorer areas of the world, the majority of children are still being educated. On the contrary to what you see in the news, the world has progressed massively. But as we move forward, we face new challenges. We cannot compare these challenges with how previous generations because the environment in which we operate in is very different. It would be like moving to the metropolis of New York and collecting food through hunting. It is irrelevant. So instead, we need to stop hiding away from what we are unsure of and find a way to adapt in accordance to the new environment. We need to stand by what has worked before, but we also need to combat new challenges such as materialism and social media. And we do this through education. Not Restriction.

Difficult situations are important motivators. If a child is in a situation where they feel uncomfortable, they will not do nothing. They will do something. We should educate them on what to do and if they do the wrong thing, they will learn from it and they will not do it again. If they do the right thing, then they will consolidate the education they have learned because they have experienced applying it to the real world. Hence, they have gained knowledge. If you restrict your child from experiencing these situations, then you prevent them from learning. Education is nothing without experience. They then grow up with a lack of understanding that their actions have consequences. Again, this is not saying that we should leave our children to roam free. Keep an eye on them and make sure that the consequences for their mistakes are not too big but making a mistake is far more important for development than being spoonfed.

So two parenting tips. Firstly, always question the source of where information is coming for it. Spreading something like Momo that isn’t true can be detrimental to others. And secondly, restriction is not protection. Allow your child to make their own mistakes. They will learn more through experiences. Then watch and see as the snowflakes disappear.

Yours Sincerely, The Motus Movement.


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