As teens grow and learn, their brains are programmed to seek out new and different experiences, which can make a challenge on social media so appealing. Some of these online trends carry a positive goal, such as altruistic video challenges raising money for a worthy cause. Others, however, involve risky behaviors that are much more dangerous — sometimes even deadly. Teens have suffered severe injuries and some have even been killed while trying to be part of this craze.
Nicholas J. Westers, Psy.D., ABPP, a clinical psychologist at Children's Health℠ and Associate Professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center, says parents need to consider how risk-prone their child is to participate in dangerous online challenges that may encourage participants to hurt or even kill themselves, whether by accident or on purpose.
"Parents need to think about how inclined their child is to engage in risky behavior, how socially isolated their child may feel, how active their child is on social media and who their child spends time with on a regular basis," Dr. Westers says.
Tips for Teens:
- Be honest with yourself. Is this a risk you will be proud you made looking back two weeks from now? Or two months from now?
- Ask yourself, "Am I doing this for popularity?". Other people's attention is not worth putting yourself in danger. The "wow factor" people might have doesn't mean they are impressed in a positive way. Shock doesn't equal approval.
- Take better risks. Rather than taking dangerous risks as part of a new trending social media challenge, push yourself to grow as a person. Use your adventurous spirit to join or start a new club at school, try a new food or activity or foster a pet.
Tips for Parents:
- Talk to teens about the dangers of risky behavior on their immediate wellbeing. Teens tend to be more focused on immediate rewards (such as the "likes" they receive on social media), not 10 years down the line. Ask them what their friends at school might think if they hear about it tomorrow.
- Talk to your child about how to be a responsible user of the internet and social media. Considering the point above, what is shared on the internet never truly leaves. Talk to them about how what they post online could affect their future and how they are perceived by others. Therefore, it is important for them to consider this before posting or participating in a social media challenge. Encourage them to be cautious of unknown sources or online contacts asking or telling them to do things that make them feel uncomfortable.
- Not everyone is doing it. Remind your child that what is seen online or in the media does not mean it is as popular as it seems.
- Does your child have a unique fascination with social media and/or risk-prone behavior? Have a talk with them about the current challenge you might be concerned with, its dangers and other risky behaviors before they decide to put this on their to-do list. Remember to focus on the immediate risks (pain, potential mocking from classmates) while not ignoring the long-term risks (regret, scarring, potential chronic pain, death).
- Does your child have healthy friendships and a sense of connectedness? If not, they may be more at risk for trying dangerous new trends to establish a sense of connectedness online and with unhealthy peers, albeit superficial and/or artificial.
Even the most well-adjusted child can be at risk of dangerous internet challenges as their brains are still developing. Parents can support their child's growth and cognitive development by creating an open line of communication and encouraging responsible decision-making to avoid these harmful trends.