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.

Every Kid Needs a Trophy

Every Kid Needs a Trophy

Today, we have a guest writer on the Teen Life blog! Seth Nichols is married to our Program Director, Beth. Seth has taught public school for 10 years and prior to that worked as a full-time youth minister. Take a look at what he had to say this week!


 

Emotionally speaking, our kids today have one of the most challenging paths to adulthood of any generation in history.

My wife, Beth, finished the Cowtown Marathon in 2010. It took every ounce of willpower and determination she had to eek out a glorious 5-hour finish time in a puddle of sweat and tears.

Today, as we were cleaning out drawers, our 5-year-old found her participant’s medal.

“Mommy–did you get first place?!”

After a snarky laugh, the response came– “Sometimes, buddy, you get a medal just for not quitting.”

________________

Some people say our kids today are entitled.  That they’re too soft.  That they need a trophy for everything.

Maybe they do.

The race they are running isn’t the same one many of us coasted through 30 or 50 years ago.

Theirs runs
up mountains of expectations,
against the winds of financial hardship and class separation,
through rains of data-driven critique,
far from home,
alone from adult interaction,
lost in a cyber-world that threatens YouTube clips any time they trip or #fail.

Their race is not for the faint of Spirit.

Every distance runner knows that the worst part of any race is the head-game.  Of course they’re sensitive. But the fact that they are still running means they’re also courageous.  They may not be making record time. But just by their not quitting, we are witnessing cause for celebration.

It isn’t easy.  Disconnection and isolation can make even a comfy Suburban life seem impossibly difficult.

So cheer your kids on today.  They need you.  Resist those grumpy voices in your head from past generations that say you’re being too soft, that you’re encouraging entitlement, that you’re making them too thin-skinned.

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Trust me when I say– life in the 21st century will make them calloused enough without your help.

__________________

After 15 years of youth work, I have come to this conclusion: our kids are entitled. They are entitled to every drop of our scant praise, our scarce love and our meager encouragement to keep on running.  They are entitled because they are our kids.

The course set for them is long and hard.  And we may just be witnessing the miracle of the human spirit with every graduation, every new class, and every next step.

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So give your kids a trophy.  Let love flow freely, and critique run dry.  And with your little morsel of praise to nudge them on, who knows what mountains they may conquer next?

How to Find Anything

How to Find Anything

It is becoming increasingly obvious that you can find anything on the internet. Or can you? Have you tried to Google anything lately? There are thousands of hits for just about any topic. Then you have you wade through the sites and information that is not helpful before you find something actually helpful or what you are looking for. So here are some ideas that have helped me narrow my searches and maybe they will help you too.

Oh and what does this have to do with teenagers? Well they believe everything they read on the internet, so you need to have a plan for helping them eliminate the hurtful, unnecessary or down right wrong searches so they can learn to discern the truth too. (This is an obvious overstatement but there’s truth in there too.)

 

  1. Think just outside the box on things that return way more hits than you can search through. In our context, people tend to look for “problems with teenagers,” or “counseling for teens,” or even “at-risk teenagers.” Just a slight change can be a huge help. One of those changes could be thinking on the positive side. A lot of organizations are trying not to focus on the negative aspect (i.e. “problems, at-risk”). So using positive termS such as “support,” “life skills,” or “parenting help” can return different results that might be more helpful.
  1. Think of technical terms, not the common words people use. This can be a little more difficult if you are not familiar with the terms that could be helpful. However, you can do a search for those things first, like searching “counseling terms” or “student services/programs” and pay attention to the words used in the results. Then use terms you see to do an alternative search. Things like “positive reinforcement” or “alternative discipline,” or for education search “accelerated classes or programs.” These don’t always come to mind because they are not the common words used in our everyday conversation, but they can be a huge help in narrowing your search for the right help.
  1. Don’t hesitate to type full sentences in search. It’s a funny thing to say because I still feel like I have to help Google search for things by typing in just the right thing. The truth is, Google can handle my full sentence much better than I can. In addition, I find that other people who have asked the same question may have posted it on a forum or FAQ and, at times, there is a helpful answer.
  1. YouTube! People post videos about everything. And if they come up at the top of the list, it’s usually because people have actually found them to be helpful – unless they’re being funny or stupid. You can also pay attention to the number of views, but I find a different indicator even more helpful. I look for the length of the video. If someone is not able to explain what they are doing in a video that is less than 10 minutes, it tells me there is too much explanation. Truthfully, I find videos between 1:30-3 minutes long to be the most helpful. I hope these tips are helpful to you too.
  1. Crowdsource it. Use your social media channel (I’ve found Facebook to work best for this, even if you never post anything else) to ask friend for input. Ignore their opinions and use the suggestions for resources they offer, unless of course you know someone really does have insight on the topic or task. Facebook is actually making this even easier by suggestng links to resources when it notices you are talking about places to suggest. This can also be helpful if you tag someone that you know is an expert in the field you are looking for help. Most likely, you will not get a response from the person them self (although this can happen), but people connected to them will see the post and you will expand your crowdsourcing beyond your circle of online friends.

 

That’s it. What ways have you found to be helpful outside of an old school Google search?

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.