Building trust with your child

The cover of the May 10, 1999, issue of Newsweek magazine asked the question, “How well do you know your kid?”

The reason for that question was the nation’s shock over the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo., which had occurred nearly three weeks earlier.

This editorial is not a rehash of Columbine’s death toll or the survivors’ lives that were changed forever that day. Instead, it’s about why that question asked on Newsweek’s May 10, 1999, cover has taken on new relevance and urgency at this time, resulting from an online “game.”

Indeed, how well do you know your son or daughter? Is he or she on a road to trouble, by his or her own doing or at the hands of someone else’s bad influence?

Is he or she reluctant to seek your advice because of uncertainty or fear over how you as a parent or guardian might react?

What can you as a parent or guardian do now, before it’s too late, to gain a strong level of trust to navigate this new problem successfully?

First, it’s necessary to understand and reflect on the troubling thing at hand.

An article in the March 1 Mirror provided an explanation, thanks to appropriate actions taken by Claysburg-Kimmel and Hollidaysburg Area school officials.

However, the issue spawning the actions hasn’t just reared its ugly head in those two school systems. It’s a problem that has infiltrated numerous schools across the country.

The problem, described in that Mirror article as a “scary meme,” is the Momo Challenge, which is geared toward encouraging young people to engage in potentially harmful or deadly activities.

Hollidaysburg Area school officials, reacting to the terrible possibilities tied to the “game,” sent a message to district parents, urging them to familiarize themselves with what the “challenge” is about and to be attentive regarding their children’s use of social media and the internet.

In that message, the district explained that Momo targets minors through social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and YouTube Kids. The message goes on to say that “the challenge reportedly threatens children with violence or harm to their family members if the child doesn’t commit potentially dangerous activities and provide photographic evidence or commit suicide.”

Claysburg-Kimmel Superintendent Darren McLaurin, in a letter sent to parents and guardians after a mention of Momo occurred during the Feb. 28 school day, explained why a quick response by the school district was necessary.

“We wanted to make sure parents were aware what they (their children) were talking about when they get home,” he said.

Although McLaurin noted experts’ belief that the challenge appears to be more fear than fact, he emphasized the importance of parents talking with their children about it.

“Parents can ask their child whether they have seen anything online that has upset or worried them and explain that there are often things that happen online that can be misleading or frightening and that some things are solely designed to get a lot of attention,” he said.

But how needed communication between parents and children plays out is dependent in large part on the questions “How well do you know your kid?” and “How engaged are you in trying to foster an ongoing strong, healthy parent-child relationship?”

That question from nearly 20 years ago has become as important now as it was then.