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.

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.
5 Ways to Prepare Your Kids for the Inevitable

5 Ways to Prepare Your Kids for the Inevitable

I love this time of year, the time when crayons are on sale and my newsfeed is filled with pictures of forced-smiling students in backpacks. Every year when August rolls around, I like to drag out my old pictures and reflect back on all of my FDOS (First Days of School).

IMG_1765I think back to when I was in Kindergarten and was so excited to be in “big kid school” with my new backpack and friends, but promptly fell asleep as soon as I got home due to all that excitement.

I will probably never forget my first day of Middle School…the nerves and anxiety of wondering if I would remember my locker combination, who I would sit by at lunch, and if I would survive the mature and much cooler 8th graders. I do look back on this day with super warm fuzzys.

I definitely remember my first day of Senior year! This year came with few nerves and doubts. By this time, I knew what to expect and where I stood, this FDOS was all excitement, anticipation and hope.

45130_1570996484960_2879813_nIf we are being honest, as many FDOS as I had in elementary, middle and high school, it is that first day (and week) of college that sticks out the most to me. Just like in kindergarten, I had a new backpack, new friends and a brand new environment. I was missing home but was nervous-excited for what the next four years would bring. However, more than anything else, I felt prepared; I knew that all the other “Firsts” were leading up to this big one.

As the first day of school comes and goes each, whether you have a baby at home, just walked your kindergartener into their first class or dropped you college student off in a strange town, your goal is for them to make it to that “Last First Day.” While parenting your children with the end in mind (hopefully that they will grow up, move on and have families of their own), there are several things you can do to prepare them for the inevitable – the leaving part.

1. Encourage and equip at every stage.

Don’t force your child to grow up too fast, but don’t ever ask, “Do you really think you are ready for this?” Instill confidence in your kids from the time they step into elementary school to their last day of college. If they feel prepared and that you are cheering them on at every step, that transition is so much easier!

2. Slowly release the reigns.

Kids need boundaries, especially the teenager-types! However, they also need to begin to explore and regulate their own boundaries before they are completely on their own. When they first get their car, make their curfew a little stricter than necessary so you can relax as they approach their senior year. Give more responsibilities, show more trust and pry less as they get older. This not only shows that you trust them, but also gives them the opportunity to excel (or fail) for the first in your home and not when they are living in a dorm room 1,000 miles away.

3. Ask about their hopes and dreams.

Ask them about their future, where they hope to be in college, after college and beyond. By doing this, you are forcing them to think about their goals and what it will take to get there. I have yet to meet a teenager without a dream for their future, but this future can seem far away for the 6th grader who just wants to be popular or the junior in high school who can’t seem to pass Physics. Give them motivation now and the expectation that, one day, they will have their own plans outside of you and your home.

4. Tell them about your hopes and dreams.

Let them know what dreams you have for their future! When you were holding your newborn for the first time, you were probably not dreaming that he would find great friends, date the perfect girl and finish high school only to live in your basement for the rest of his life. You might have had grand dreams of college, a great career, a loving family and grandbabies. Remind them (and yourself) that you want them to leave. You want them to be mature and responsible enough to be on their own and function as a (somewhat normal) human being.

5. Prepare yourself.

The greatest way to prepare your kids to graduate, grow up and move out on their own is to prepare yourself. Take pictures, cry as they drive themselves to school for the first time, force them to participate in family game nights, but don’t lose sight of the dreams and goals we just talked about. Parent with the end in mind, knowing that they will leave and that is good. Instead of making them feel guilty for leaving you, send them off with the confidence and trust that they will excel because they are prepared.

 

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Lifeline’s original support groups and now is our Communications Director. She is passionate about speaking life into students and encouraging them to live better stories.