It seems to have come out of nowhere and gone viral in an instant. There is a new “game” sweeping middle schools called “The Charlie Challenge.” Superficially, it seems like a silly, harmless, childish fantasy. Kids make a grid on a piece of paper that says, “yes/no.” They make an X out of two pencils and attempt to summon an erstwhile demon named “Charlie.” Then they ask him questions which he answers by moving the pencils. It’s rather creepy to watch. (I won’t link the videos here because I have no interest in spreading the craze but it’s easy enough to find online if you want to look).
For background, here’s a BBC story on the phenomenon. Also, Simcha Fisher has an excellent post on the topic that I highly encourage you to read.
Of course it all sounds like silly nonsense, except that it isn’t and in the mind of a middle school child, this game can be played for rather high stakes. Remember the 2 middle school girls who attempted to murder their friend to appease “Slenderman“? Sometimes child’s play isn’t just stuff and fluff.
That said, my concern is less with what the culture makes out of this phenomenon than what to tell your kids about it. Here are some suggestions.
1. Satan is Boring.
A lot of people who don’t know better are fascinated by Satan. But here’s the thing. Satan is boring. Jesus Christ ROSE FROM THE DEAD. Satan moves some pencils around. What’s so exciting about that? People who are fascinated by this nonsense are, simply put, foolish and stupid. Don’t be foolish and stupid. Christians have better things to do. We worship the God who kicked Satan’s butt. Don’t waste time with losers.
2. Stupid and Foolish Is Still Harmful
Just because something is foolish and stupid doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous. Drugs and alcohol are stupid and foolish. High risk sexual behavior is stupid and foolish. Texting and driving is stupid and foolish. But each year these lesser demons claim thousands upon thousands of lives. Playing with “Charlie” is stupid and foolish too, because it purports to turn evil into a playmate. When we choose to associate with even the glamour of evil, we take our eyes off of God. That’s like turning off the lights before walking through a room filled with booby-traps and alligators just for the fun of it. We need to keep our eyes on the Lord at all times because he is our only reliable source of guidance and grace. The so-called, “Charlie Challenge” is a silly distraction that isn’t worth taking a single second away from the God who loves us more than anything and sacrificed everything to spend eternity with us. God has given us much better than this and he deserves better than this from us.
3. It is A Serious Sin
Playing this game is as serious sin and a violation of the First Commandment (Have no other gods but me). It represents the sins of idolatry and divination. Here is what the Catechism has to say on these sins…
Divination and magic
2115 God can reveal the future to his prophets or to other saints. Still, a sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it. Improvidence, however, can constitute a lack of responsibility.
2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future.48 Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.
2117 All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others – even if this were for the sake of restoring their health – are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion.
In short, “The Charlie Challenge” is idolatry because it is attempting to ascribe godlike power (e.g., secret knowledge and knowledge of the future) to something that is not God. It is divination because rather than praying to God about their concerns this game has children asking a pair of pencils what the future holds. Who is it better to give the care of the future to? Lord God King of the Universe? Or a couple of pencils that, most days, can’t even manage to help a kid fill in the right circles on a standarized test?
4. Go to Confession.
If your child plays this game or has played this game, it will be important to go to confession immediately. Letting the devil in the door, even for silly reasons, is never something to take lightly. It is true that Christ has the victory and Satan has no power over God’s children–unless, that is, we invite him in. It doesn’t have to be a formal invitation. Playing a silly game is enough. The idea that we can wield power over spirits is a tempting thought but giving into that temptation–even over a silly game– can change our entire spiritual perspective. Instead of seeing ourselves as God’s disciples, we begin to see prayer, the sacraments, and sacramentals as talismans that give us power over the world. This is the antithesis of the receptive spirit required of a disciple of the Lord and Satan knows it. Anyone who dabbles in these kinds of activities will need to confess this prideful spiritual attitude to reorient themselves to a proper mindset for discipleship in which we learn the way of life by listening to God, not by trying to claim spiritual power over life by illicit means.
5. Don’t Freak Out.
If your child plays this game or has played this game your child will need you to treat him or her with gentleness, love, and affection. Not with anger, outrage, and anxiety. Talk to your child as if you were talking to someone who had no idea what he or she was doing and still may not understand what has happened. Most likely your child was acting in naivete and ignorance. He or she will need to be taught, not only why this was a poor and even sinful choice, but what to do instead. Your child’s playing of this game represents a distortion of the natural and godly desire to know God’s will and understand God’s plan for their lives. If you have not taught your child how to have a meaningful personal prayer life or discern God’s will, you will need to do so–or learn to do so–over the next several weeks together. Simply punishing your child without teaching your child how to bring his or her concerns to God and hear his voice is simply setting your child up for future occult involvement.
Using your own words, gently and patiently explain to your child the things that I have shared with you in points 1-4 above. Then take your child to confession. Let your child know how much you love them and want to help him or her learn how to turn to God to get the answers for the deepest questions of his or her heart.
See the Hidden Opportunity
The Charlie Challenge is not something to lose sleep over, but it is something to take seriously. Most importantly, it is an opportunity to teach your child to have the heart of a disciple who knows how to seek God’s will and hear God’s voice so that he or she isn’t tempted to seek counsel from more dubious and diabolical sources.
For more information on raising truly a faithful kids, check out Parenting with Grace and for more tips on helping your kids make moral choices in every aspect of their lives pick up a copy of Beyond the Birds and the Bees.