Turns Out I Didn’t Screw Up My Kid—School Did!

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Ottawa, April 2019

It started with a silly dance performed in the kitchen—I may even have clapped and cheered.

Then, one day, out of the blue, Mark asked me what “dab” meant. “Context?” I prompted as if I were dealing with a difficult client. Mark shrugged. “Dunno.” I shrugged as well. In a multicultural, multilingual household, some words remain a mystery until we hear them again—butchered French, Chinese slang, not-quite-mastered Spanish and Portuguese and questionable English are part of our life.

By fall, Mark was starting every recess story with “So, we were playing Fortnite…”

“Huh huh,” was my standard answer, waiting for the rice to boil and for drama to unfold, usually the “… and he told me he wasn’t my friend anymore” type. What else could I say? I had no clue what Fortnite—or rather “fourth night,” the way Mark pronounced it—was. I thought it was the Canadian version of “hide and seek,” “dodge ball” or another classic outdoors games middle school kids play to keep warm and burn energy.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is why parents should always pay attention to what kids are saying. Among themselves, they definitely talk about poop, sex, guns, violence, private family matters and other stuff we don’t suspect they’re aware of. Of course, they probably aren’t as explicit and knowledgeable as us—let’s face it, we can leverage Google much better to fill in the gaps—but they know stuff we don’t know they know and they know stuff we don’t know, period.

Three months into daily games of Fortnite at school, I finally learned it was an extremely popular multiplayer “battle royale” video game. Mark never played it at home and I suspect his friends didn’t either but they all knew the main characters, the “emotes” (dance moves), the lingo and more. Awe-some. Fortnight… how did I even miss this damn trend? And what was I supposed to say about it as a parent? I don’t believe video games turn players into mass murderers but I’m not happy that Mark spends recess “shooting” his Grade-1 friends. I’m vehemently anti-gun but I’m not delusional enough to believe he was never going to play with pretend weapons. Pick your battles—I won’t fight with my son who, like most kids, loves to fight.

While kids are pretending to be Creepy Bear, Skull Trooper, Raven or Battle Hound at recess, the school is sending emails.

I should have paid attention to that as well.

One night, when I was in Santiago, between weather reports (“wanna see the snow?”) and many silly emojis, Mark suddenly asked me what a hacker was.

I didn’t even have the chance to go beyond a basic “someone who tries to attack computers” when in typical Mark fashion, he jumped to what seemed to be another topic.

“Do you know Momo?”

“Momo? No…”

“It’s okay, mommy, that’s probably a movie…”

“Yeah, I think it was a cartoon, wasn’t it? Oh no, wait. That was Coco. Momo… nope, never heard of it.”

The look on Mark’s face made me Google it—clearly, my answer mattered to him.

I didn’t expect such a common keyword would yield relevant results, but it did. Oh, fuck, what the hell was that thing?

And suddenly, I remembered an email the school sent us recently, one of these messages I didn’t pay attention to because it’s a K-12 school and we get a ton of irrelevant emails, from late school buses to fire drills, from school board “news” to communication clearly intended for parents of older kids.

“You saw Momo, didn’t you, mommy?” Mark asked, probably noticing my expression.

“Okay, wait, Mark. I’ll explain in a second… just let me learn about it first.”

I speed-readed “Momo for dummies”—it’s basically an Internet urban legend, a creepy creature that instructs kids how to harm their family or themselves. The scarier part is the picture used to depict “Momo.”

“The first thing you have to know, is that it doesn’t exist. It’s just a scary joke. Huh… Mark, did you see Momo?”

“Well, yeah. I Googled it.”

“The picture?”

“Duh.”

Fuck. “Remember what a sculpture is? That’s what Momo is, a scary sculpture. Like many things on the Internet, it’s not real.”

Turned out the school thought it was a great idea to initiate an “Internet safety” talk with kids and “Momo” was mentioned, so first graders had basically spent the entire week talking about something they didn’t know existed before the “educational moment.” The road to hell… Seriously, fuck awareness.

I take full responsibility for the fact Mark hears the word “fuck” at home. I also take responsibility for the fact he can sing “Welcome to the Jungle” (actually, that’s Feng’s fault), eats too much Lindt chocolate (I have to hide my stash better) and hundred of other parenting “mistakes.”

But Fortnite and Momo? Not my fault—and not cool.

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

12 Comments

  1. My latest pet peeve are the computers at the library… We go to the library once a week to ESCAPE the screens we have at home and do some craft activities (yes, that’s one mess I don’t have to clean up!). And yet, after 15 minutes the kids don’t even want to check out the books, because they have access to the library’s computers. laptops and tablets…

    • Oh, I feel your pain! Every time we go to a museum or really, any public place these days, Mark find any touch screen available and goes straight for it. It drives me NUTS! And I appreciate museums or libraries are getting more modern, but I think we all need a break from screens.

  2. I just spent one hour calming an anxiety attack in an 8 year old who “saw a scary ad” at school. When I asked where on Earth he would have seen such an ad, he replied they watch Pink Panther on Youtube a lunch… Now why on Earth would they be watching Youtube videos at lunchtime??! And apparently witbout the child filter on?

    • I’m surprised the school even allows YouTube considering how easy it is to go from one innocuous video to something… ahem, totally different. It’s very, very hard to child-proof YouTube. I felt like a complete idiot the day I realized there were ads, my version (Firefox with adblock) doesn’t and I rarely watch videos anyway.

      Did you figure out which ad it was? That’s how Mark got obsessed with It last year, he saw the trailer as an ad on YouTube 😆

      At least, our kids tell us how they feel, what scared them. It’s good, I think.

  3. Ce qui me dérange le plus avec Fortnite, ce n’est pas tant le côté armes à feu (quoique… moi non plus je n’aime pas ça du tout), mais surtout le côté addictif ! L’année passée, je donnais des cours de français à deux enfants (des jumeaux) de 10 ans. Ils attendaient avec impatience la fin du cours pour s’emparer de leur portable et jouer à Fortnite, et me racontaient qu’ils se retrouvaient avec leurs copains pour y jouer…

    Là, mon fils (8 ans) commence à me réclamer un smartphone, en me citant les noms de tous ses copains qui en ont. Je vais résister aussi longtemps que possible, mais ce n’est pas évident !

    • Je crois que tous les jeux vidéos sont addictifs! Feng et Mark se relaient avec la tablette, par pour jouer à Fortnite, mais à SimCity. Disons que le temps ne s’écoule pas pareil lorsqu’ils jouent 😆

      J’ai assez peu joué aux jeux vidéos, sauf à la Game Boy (jeune ado) et les deux premières années au Canada aux Sims et à Civilization sur PC, principalement parce que je passais le temps et qu’on n’avait pas encore Internet à la maison (c’était en 2003). Je sais que c’est addictif, c’est pour ça que je n’ai pas envie de commencer… j’ai déjà pas assez de temps pour des projets qui me tiennent à coeur!

  4. Je vais faire la réponse typique de vieux : je trouve que nous vivons une drôle d’époque. Nous ne sommes pas trop concernés encore, elle n’est qu’en maternelle, elle ne joue pas aux jeux vidéos et elle ne va pas sur internet. Mais j’entends les propos des autres enfants, les idées, et je trouve ça… suprenant, pour ne pas dire inquiétant parfois.

    • Dans la pratique, Internet reste un monde inconnu pour Mark, même s’il s’intéresse au principe du courriel (vu qu’il nous voit travailler de la maison). Par contre, il sait que pour avoir YouTube sur la tablette, il doit être connecté, et il a compris que “Google répondait aux questions” (d’où de vague tentatives pour Googler, heureusement limitées car on est autour!).

      Ça me fait un peu flipper le nombre de réseaux sociaux et autres sur lesquels sont les gens qui ont vraiment grandi avec Internet. Je ne vois pas comment je pourrais empêcher Mark de faire de même, dans quelques années…

  5. I recently listened to this podcast episode about Momo: gimletmedia.com/shows/reply-all/j4h6jd/138-the-great-momo-panic Like you said, it’s a lot of hype. Reminds me of how when I was in elementary school, there was one year that a teacher warned us about blades in candy when going trick-or-treating. There was some widespread story about that danger, and the warning was circulated. Years later, I learned that when something like this actually happened, the person causing harm was the kid’s family member, not a stranger. As you pointed out, the rumor is scarier than the origin of it.

    • YES! I listened to the same episode (I like Reply All) a few weeks later. There has always been urban legends around, and funny enough, they are very similar from one country to another. I don’t think “Momo” is a thing but the Reply All episode did make me want to police YouTube a bit more (for Mark). I’m kind of naive, I thought it was just… you know, harmless videos.

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