Confronting the Momo Problem

Confronting the Momo Problem

The “Momo Challenge”.

Did you hear about it? Did it cause panic among your circles? Did you see emails, Facebook posts, and texts warning you about this terrifying internet presence?

Momo is scary, terrifying, horrible, dark, and twisted. But it is also fake – a hoax. Even though this particular character was fake, it brings up a great question – how do we confront internet and social media issues with our children?

Before I go further, let me give some context for those who haven’t heard of Momo. According to this CNN article, “The [Momo] challenge is the latest viral concern/social media fad/urban legend going around Facebook parenting groups and schools. It’s described as a “suicide game” which combines shock imagery and hidden messaging, and it supposedly encourages kids to attempt dangerous stunts, including suicide.”

According to Facebook posts, the scary, large-eyed doll figure called Momo would pop up in the middle of YouTube videos aimed at children like cartoons and toy reviews. Momo would then ask children to engage in destructive behavior – hurting themselves, loved ones, and even encouraging them to kill themselves. Reportedly, Momo also warned viewers against telling adults about what they were seeing and hearing. It is a horrifying thought that these messages would sneak into videos that parents and adults trusted to be safe for children.

However, while there have been Facebook posts, testimonies and stories, there has been little to no evidence that these Momo Challenge messages exist – no screen shots or recordings. According to experts, Momo is nothing to be worried about and stories of the challenge have been perpetuated by fearful exaggeration.

Now here is the problem with Momo – are children scared of the figure because they saw it in a video? Or are they scared because of the stories and pictures they have seen from parents and peers? Which begs the question – did we make this problem worse by talking about it? And how do we handle things like this in the future?

Here are some things to keep in mind while having internet, social media, or cyber-bullying conversations with you children and teenagers:


Question without telling.

When asking teens about current things that you are seeing in the news or on Facebook, start by asking non-leading questions. Instead of asking about Snapchat, for example, ask what apps they are using on their phones. Ask how they interact with friends via the internet. Ask if they have seen or heard anything scary or inappropriate on the internet or their phone apps.

By all means, please ask your teenagers what they are watching, listening to, interacting on. If you have younger children, have them watch videos with you in the room, check their view history and regulate what they have access to. But try to avoid telling them the shortcomings of social media and the internet if they are using it innocently. Open the door for your kids to talk to you without making them worried or afraid of what you might tell them. 


Talk without projecting fear.

It is understandable if you are worried. But your kids don’t need your worry and fear projected on them. This is especially important when you are talking about cyberbullying and worrisome content.

For example, maybe your teen received a less-than-nice message on social media. While this is not ideal or even acceptable, it also doesn’t mean that they are being bullied. However, if you project that fear onto your child, they will look for bullying in every situation in the future. Let them hold onto their innocence for as long as possible. Use accountability and some boundaries to check on them without placing rules that will raise anxiety or stress.


 Ask without assumption.

Don’t assume that just because an app is popular, your student has it on their phone. Even though Snapchat could be used with some negative intent, it doesn’t mean that your teen is using it for anything besides sending silly pictures to friends.

You should ask. You should question and keep your teenager accountable. But please don’t assume that they are doing something wrong or hiding something from you. When you start a conversation with assumptions, your teen will most likely start their response with defensiveness. Healthy conversations will include questions and an open discussion – they will end with accusations and assumptions. Give your teen the benefit of the doubt and show that you are willing to listen first before reacting!


 Discuss without an agenda.

Sometimes, you need to have discussions with your kids even if you don’t have something specific you need to ask about. When you open the door for discussion at all times, not just when they are in trouble or you are worried, they are more likely to come to you on their own instead of you always having to seek them out.

They may think you are being dorky and they may roll your eyes, but ask, “What is the newest app these days?” Ask the cool ways to connect with friends online. Start a conversation about the newest video game craze. Show that you are interested in them. Teens want you to ask – despite their reactions – they want to be heard and cared about. Be an adult who hears about the scary, dangerous, fun, exciting things first because that is the kind of relationship you have cultivated with teenagers.


As I wrap up, I want to encourage you to be invested in the social media practices of your children. Know what they are watching, downloading, playing and using. Ask other adults, and stay aware of trends and possible dangers.

Hopefully you did hear about the Momo Challenge, but I also hope you will do research and ask around when you hear legends and rumors. While we don’t want to be naïve adults, we also don’t need to believe everything on internet. Above all else, start conversations with your kids and teens. Ask questions, engage them, and also trust them!

You are doing hard work in an constantly changing world!

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Marketing & Development Director

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

Get on the Ground

Get on the Ground

I’ve never considered myself the “playful” type. It’s not that I’m particularly boring, but my “default” gear isn’t to step into a room wondering what kind of mischief I can stir up. I leave that to my wife.

For me, it is more of a mental shift I make – a decision that I’m not going to focus on getting things done, but just “play”. Sometimes this can be a hard shift because I feel like I am at my best when I am accomplishing things. Being task-oriented has helped me become more focused and productive, but sometimes it comes at a cost. My job has become more task oriented, and often that will follow me home.

So, when I walk in my home after a long work day my challenge is turning off my task list and re-orienting my priorities. You see, my kids don’t care about what I accomplished that day. All they want is to play. And I find the quickest way for me to switch from work to play mode is quite simple – lay down.

Oh, and I forgot the second part – prepare for the pain.

For a seven, four, and two year old there is nothing more thrilling than to see their daddy lay down on the ground for them to wrestle and jump on. Seriously – I compare the looks I see on their faces to Christmas morning sometimes. Maybe it is because I don’t do it enough – or maybe it’s because there is something else going on.

Adults fail to realize the simple idea of distance. Our world is “up here” and their’s is “down there”. They are always looking up to what we are doing. When we discipline or get upset at them, often it is from “up here”. Important conversations and decisions are made from “up there”. But, “down here” is where play, imagination, games, wrestling, and all the cool kid stuff happens.

The problem is – us adults spend way too much time “up there” and forget about “down here”. We get so consumed with adult things that we forget there is a whole other world just below our knees that looks nothing like ours. All we have to do to experience it is to lay down.

I have two big boys, and they like to hurt me when I’m down on the ground. I have a little girl who loves nothing more than to bounce on my back. It does hurt. But, for a brief moment I enter their world, and they get to share all of the cool things they are doing. They are in control. They call the shots. I don’t really have any authority on the ground.

This is “sacred space” that all adults who work with students should notice. It looks different the older people get – but that sacred space still exists. There is a world that teenagers live in where adults seldom venture. It’s a place where the shiny new tools of emotional development, society, culture, education, and the future collide. For those on the inside, it can be pretty overwhelming. If more adults would go into the world of a teenager with compassion and grace instead of advice and rules, we would know what it means to “get on the ground” with teenagers. They will open up. They will listen to you. They will trust you.

So, let’s change the way we approach teenagers. Instead of bringing adult thinking and culture to them, let’s leave all of that behind and “get on the ground” with them. It might hurt a little, but imagine what you will find……

How does this strike you? How do you “get on the ground” with the teenagers in your life? 

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s COO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
How to Set Up Your Kid’s New iPhone

How to Set Up Your Kid’s New iPhone

If you are a parent, you will no doubt get a request from a child this holiday season for a new iPhone (or iPod, iPad, etc.). When this happens there is always the thought, as a parent, of what to do about safety and monitoring. Now, if you have a 13-year-old or older, you will definitely want to involve them in the process I’m outlining here so they know that they have a say in how boundaries are set up. For those of us that have younger kids, we need to use this as an opportunity to begin creating good technology-related boundaries.

For this post, I’m going to specifically discuss settings and tools related to iOS 10 (the software on Apple products). That being true, the principles will apply to other operating systems such as the  Windows Phone and Android, but the process will look different.

The goal here is to set up and use settings and built-in options that help keep kids safe and monitor their use. This monitoring is not to look over their shoulder, but so that you can have helpful conversations about how to use technology as a tool rather than it becoming a distraction that keeps us from accomplishing the important things in life. The truth is technology has contributed to some amazing things being discovered or accomplished, but it has also contributed to some negative effects on people that could have a lasting impact.

With that as the background, let’s walk through some things you want to be aware of and others you need to set up when you first get a new iDevice so that you are setting your child up for success!


Silencing the distractions
In iOS 10 for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, it is easy to mute the device using the “do not disturb” button. This is enabled by simply swiping up from the bottom of the screen and selecting the button with the half-moon on it. I think this is the most under-used setting in iOS. You don’t have to only use it during funerals, you can also use it during dinner or homework so the phone doesn’t even go off. It is great for keeping those annoying alerts from interrupting chore time or story time in the evenings. Trust me, the fact that there is a new coin or they have almost reached the level that unlocks the greatest player ever is not worth how hard it will be to recover their attention when it dings. Use it anytime you don’t want the device making noise. The advantage to using this rather then the airplane mode is that it still allows notifications to get through, it just won’t alert you. In case you are not familiar with this feature, watch this YouTube video to learn more.


Enable Keyboard Clicks
I personally do not like the clicking noise that the digital keyboard makes by default. Because of this, I turn it off anytime I get a new device. However, if you have a device just for the kids, like we do at our house, I recommend keeping keyboard clicks on. The benefit here is that I can hear if my kids are typing something. It’s an audible alert that they don’t think about but can prompt me to go over and see what they are up to. It is a great way to be curious and talk to them about how they are using the iPad but not come across as, “What in the world are you doing now?”


Set the password yourself
I don’t know where the idea came from that kids need privacy and space, but it is mostly wrong. Yes, hopefully they gain more responsibility as they get older, but privacy is only a way for them to hide things that you as a parent probably need to be talking to them about. They can have privacy when they move out and you have invested 18 years teaching them how to make the good choices and they are now in complete control of choosing on their own (and I am overstating this for emphasis, obviously there are times when appropriate privacy is okay, but that’s not the point here). So setting a password, or better yet a finger print, is a must. I would recommend changing the password occasionally, too. Just to keep them honest. This serves two purposes, #1: That they do not have unrestricted access to the device and just use it whenever they want and #2: That they do not have unrestricted access to the device. Okay, so those two are really one, but I hope you get the point. Unrestricted access for anyone that doesn’t have a monthly income and pay their own rent or mortgage is not okay because they are still learning the life lessons they need to have that unrestricted access.


Turn on Automatic Downloads
One of the settings you definitely want turned on as a parent is automatic downloads. Inevitably, your kids will download something without you knowing. No, it is not certain that they will need your password (or that they won’t somehow find it out). So if you enable auto download on your device, you’ll know everything that’s downloaded on any device connected to your account. This is a simple and easy way to keep tabs on what apps kids are using. You should never have to say, “I don’t really know what app they use with their friends,” because if you have this enabled, you can ask them about it when it gets downloaded. Once you have had the conversation with them, you can simply delete it from your device. Unless of course you want to play the game too!


Set Restrictions
Turning on restrictions is a good plan for you and your kids. Of course as an adult, I can download whatever I want and visit any site I feel like but there may be a time where it’s good for me to pause and consider whether the content on that app or site is really worth my time. This is a great lesson for kids to learn. It may mean a little bit of a headache (sometimes it does for me) if the restriction is too restrictive. But the benefit of forcing a conversation with your child that you should be having anyway is worth the few extra minutes each week or month it will take you to punch in an extra password to allow things that didn’t need to be restricted.


If you are unfamiliar with how to get to any of the settings I talked about in this post, do what I do. Search on YouTube and find a video that walks you through the process step by step.

I hope these settings and features help you and you kids have some healthy conversations around technology use. In addition, I hope they help set up needed boundaries for you and your kids so that the technology is not in control but still available as a tool and a little fun now and then too.

So, what do you think? How have you set boundaries for your students and how have they responded? How have you failed at this and done better? Let us know!

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 4, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
About the Rules We Wish Our Parents Set for Us

About the Rules We Wish Our Parents Set for Us

At a recent teen parent support group, we spent a few minutes talking about how we grew up. We shared all kinds of funny stories about the crazy rules and expectations our parents placed upon us, how we rebelled and made things hard on them, and overall reminded ourselves what life was like growing up. It was a great conversation to have, especially with teenage parents.

Because you see, these are young women and men who should still be actively “parented” but are now actively “parenting”. And in some cases, both are going on simultaneously.

There are not too many situations you can be in as an adult volunteer where the student can realistically become the teacher. I’ve had some teen parent groups with teenagers whose children are both older than mine and even more numerous. Needless to say, this can level the playing field a bit and offer some energetic and revealing conversations about what it means to be a parent, no matter how old or young.

One of the questions we pondered during this group revolved around what we wish our parents would have done differently. More specifically, we asked the group to share one rule or expectation that they wish their parents would have had for them that would have been really helpful.

I love this question because it forces teenagers to be honest with themselves about their parents shortcomings, how it might have affected them, and it can even force them to see their parents as humans in light of their own new parenting journey.

The one response that really hit me hard was from a mom who wished her parents would have kept her cell phone out of her room at night. Now, there is a lot to say about this topic specifically (I’ll refer you to this well timed blog article from our friend, Sarah Brooks on this very subject), but I think there is something to hear from this teen mom.

There are certain things we can assume about teenagers and what they want/need. Prevailing logic would suggest teenagers want to be on their phones at all times. This same logic would suggest any attempt to put boundaries and structures on something so sacred (this can be applied to various other things teenagers might find sacred) would be met with all-out war.

With this particular issue, I have seen both sides. While walking through their normal day-to-day lives, to ask a teenager to give up their connectivity via the internet might seem like asking them to lop off one of their appendages. Yet, I have also been on wilderness trips with teenagers where our phones didn’t work and have had them talk with me about the relief they felt from not having to always pay attention to every incoming communication.

But the bigger issue here is finding a way to place healthy boundaries on things like cell phones, time spent with friends, schoolwork, jobs, sports, etc. We assume giving way to anything that brings happiness or immediate fulfillment is always a good thing. But in the wake of this, balance is lost. Boundaries become murkier and less clear.

  • The bedroom is no longer for sleeping, it’s for texting.
  • Our sports are no longer for exercise and fun, but for winning at all costs.
  • School is no longer for education, but for living up to unrealistic expectations
  • Family time is no longer a foundation but more for utility. 

These boundaries are important to learn early and often for teenagers. And while it is hard to get them to admit, they really appreciate someone older and wiser coming in and restoring order and balance through setting up healthy boundaries for the things we enjoy.

So, what do you think? How have you set boundaries for your students and how have they responded? How have you failed at this and done better? Let us know!

Chris Robey, Teen Lifeline’s Program Director, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
7 Kids Isn’t For You

7 Kids Isn’t For You

Occasionally, I am privileged to speak to a group of teenaged parents. I appreciate these opportunities because I can’t imagine being a high school student and a parent. Just being a parent is hard enough.

When introducing myself, one of the things I choose to do is to tell the group that my wife and I have 4 kids at our house. I then show a picture of 7 kids (see below) and explain that for the time being we have 3 extra kids living with us. Who they are and why is for another time.

I usually say something to the effect of, “I don’t recommend having 7 kids. It isn’t for everyone.” And I mean it. What inevitably happens when I show 7 kids on the screen as I am teaching a class on internet and social media is that some assumptions are made. I do not want one of these assumptions to be that we have it all together. Because often, we don’t.



So what do I want them to hear?