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Over the past two days, news stories of the “Momo Challenge” have been rapidly spreading through the media. This has led to much misinformation, unclear understanding and concerned parents, professionals and teachers as well as frightened children.  On Wednesday, February 27th, reports of this “challenge” were seen in many media news stories and by forwarded posts on Facebook, Instagram and other social media. By Thursday February 28th 2019, students in schools were talking about it and scared by the image attached to this story.

Do you remember when Atari was the most popular, must have, latest gaming system? Or, when you got your first cell phone and it was used for emergencies only? How about when television ads first started to include that “www dot thing” at the bottom of the screen? Growing up, I can remember each of these instances and more as the world wide web began to infiltrate our homes and lives.

A critical adolescent developmental task involves developing a stable sense of self.  During these vulnerable years, tweens and teens are strongly influenced by their peers and the actions of their peers take on a heightened sense of importance. We have known for many years the grave pull of peer pressure and how it influences teen behavior. In the age of social media, adolescents are able to utilize digital peer pressure to influence behavior of vulnerable teens and tweens. The recent internet phenomena circulating social media sites is the Salt and Ice Challenge (SIC).

By placing salt on the skin and then ice on top of the salt, the teen feels a “burning” sensation and is challenged to see how long they can withstand this sensation. This is a very serious medical concern as the mixture causes the temperature to become 0 degrees F and can cause second and third degree burn injuries. It is similar to frostbite and numbness associated with the cold interferes with the teen’s awareness that an injury has occurred. Nerve damage and permanent scars to the skin at varying depths are possible.

It is critical for parents to be aware of their adolescent’s use of social media and monitor for sites they visit and content on their network pages. Parents are not always aware of the nuances of social media and feel uneducated about how to monitor the social media sites their teens use. It is extremely important for parents to be informed about access to the internet and social media sites available to their adolescent. If they find something that they do not understand or are alarmed by, they can use their pediatric primary care provider to assist them.

As a pediatric nurse practitioner for 20 years, I always discuss social media and the internet with teens and their parents. Although many parents are involved, too many parents will tell me that their older sibling checks on the younger teen’s sites and many are unaware of the vast array of web pages, links and social media sites accessible to their teens. One study reported adolescent use of social media and the internet at 7-11 hours/day with 25% of it being unsupervised as it is accessed on their cell phones. Please click here and here for articles from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control. They have excellent resources for parents to stay informed.

Nursing Faculty portraits

Brenda Cassidy, DNP, MSN,CPNP-PC
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, over 20 years experience

Dear Amanda,

I have two children: a girl in middle school and a boy in high school. They have become obsessed with the PokémonGo app. It has been all over the news about thieves using it to lure kids to areas and robbing them. I feel that I should make them delete the app. What should I do?


A very timely question! For those that aren’t aware, Pokémon is a video game created by Nintendo for their handheld device, the Gameboy. It was first released in 1996 in Japan and has become a worldwide phenomenon spawning multiple movies, TV shows, trading cards, etc. There have been various editions of the game over the last 20 years. Many of our kids have grown up with the figures as a part of their pop culture.

In a nutshell, the game involves the player traveling around trying to capture Pokémon (pocket monsters) that run wild in the world using a special device called a Poké ball. There are hundreds of different breeds of Pokémon with varying levels of power. For more info about the game, click here.

Until now, the game has bpokemon-header2een played on Nintendo platforms with some sharing via Wi-Fi between players. For the first time, the game can be played on your cell phone with a free app called PokémonGo. It is a “live” version of the platform game, only the world isn’t imaginary anymore. The app uses GPS to pinpoint exact locations of your child/teen and generates content for them to interact with. The game was designed to get kids out and walking in the fresh air. Features of the game include “eggs” that hatch after walking so many kilometers, accessories/upgrades you can find and notifications for wild Pokémon in your area. In order to catch the wild Pokémon, players need to track and sometimes even run to get it. Quite ingenious!

One tool that can be purchased or earned is called “lure.” This allows a player to attract Pokémon to a particular location. This is helpful if you are trying to capture a rare breed or several Pokémon in a small area. A side effect is that it also attracts other players to you. This is what is getting the publicity as, yes, those with negative purposes could use this feature to lure unsuspecting kids (and adults) to locations that are not well lit, vacant or off the beaten path. Note: At this time, the GPS feature only shows you where items or Pokémon in the game are. It does not show you the location of other players.

So back to your question….should you make them delete the app? Ultimately, that is your decision as a parent, but this is the approach I would take (and did!).

First, learn a little about the game. It’s actually a lot of fun…sort of a combination of a treasure hunt and geocaching. It’s a great way to get a child or teenager (or adult!) out of the house and exploring their Community. I spent this weekend taking my child to a few local sites that were considered “hot spots,” meaning there were many Pokémon or accessories in the area. We were at a local university, a cemetery (lots of cemeteries are on the map), a local park and a church. All were good locations for kids to go out and walk. One friend actually downloaded the app along with her child and they are playing together while exploring their city.

That being said, it is also an excellent opportunity to talk with your child about the location feature on their device. Do they know what a GPS is? Do they know how to change the location and privacy settings? Do they know their Community and what areas may be unsafe? Do they go with a group and have a plan in case they encounter a stranger? Are certain locations off limits depending on the time of day?

This is also a good opportunity to have follow-up discussions about what they are posting on social media sites and review those privacy settings, especially regarding their location. Facebook, Twitter, Snap Chat and Tumblr all have big followings based on this new game. Fun fact: In the five days it’s been on the market, PokemonGo has been downloaded more that the social media app, Tinder and is set to overtake Twitter as well. Click here to read more.

If you are concerned, then it’s time to make a different decision and/or seek out help. As with all social media, we want our kids to use the technology in a safe manner. So talk and connect….it is all about the open conversation.

amanda-new

Amanda Cooper, LCSW

“I’m working with parents that are struggling with their kids’ behavioral outbursts when they take away their device. It’s almost like they have an addiction to their phone or tablet. I’ve heard of internet addiction, but is there device addiction?”

Amanda’s Answer:
This is a very good question and one that comes up often in discussions with parents and professionals.  For the most part, the object of dependence tends to be the cell phone. If you need a demonstration, all you need to do…

“Let’s take a moment to examine the concepts of knowledge and wisdom and how they relate to social media. Some people may combine knowledge and wisdom in the same category. While they are closely connected and work well together when used symbiotically, there are distinct differences.   Knowledge is gained daily through assignments, tasks, and activities…think of it as “book smarts”. Wisdom is built over time and through observation and experience. Knowledge is something you can direct via your educational, occupational and interests path. Wisdom is the summation of the experience that provides guidance for what you do with knowledge… think of Wisdom as life experience or “street smarts”.

Children are born learners. They naturally want to discover the world and all it has to offer. They go to school to gain knowledge. As they grow we adults help sculpt their wisdom. We teach and model right from wrong and how to interact in the world successfully. We help them understand behaviors and consequences. We allow them to stumble and learn from mistakes. From the day they are born, our goal for our children is to have them accumulate a knowledge bank and then be able to use wisdom to judge how to most successfully use that knowledge.

In order to foster wisdom, in any area of our children’s lives, we need to be able to assess, redirect and guide our child’s choices as a result of their knowledge. In order to do this we must have the knowledge ourselves of each individual area to understand how to shape their wisdom.

Our children go to school and spend time with friends. They gain knowledge about technology because it’s part of today’s society. They gather this knowledge quickly and at an early age. They will rapidly outpace parents and teachers with knowledge of the technology through everyday use. Yet as a result of the lack of brain maturing until the age of twenty five, they do not have fully developed wisdom related to cause and effect of what they post on social media.

As adults we have gathered a lifetime of wisdom. We have learned from our mistakes and developed an ability to make good decisions. But we, as adults, have not kept up gaining knowledge related to technology and social media. This can cause us to struggle with imparting wisdom to our children and their online activities. It’s important for us to continue to gather knowledge about social media and technology. How can children be expected to gather wisdom from us when we don’t know anything about the subject?

One teen gave me feedback a few years ago about adults teaching teens about technology. They simply stated “first learn how to use it.” Good Advice. I think.

~ Ryan”

I regularly talk to kids about apps. Over the past year, I’m starting to hear about Tinder with the senior aged kids. Part of my work is teaching them to recognize red flag behaviors, indicators for grooming and not going to meet people in person that they meet on Tinder (or other sites such as Craigslist).
I know what Tinder is and how it works. As with all apps I discuss, I get on it from time to time to see if there are any new updates or behaviors I need to teach to parents. But not all parents or educators know what it is and how it works to give kids this knowledge.