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:
- Today’s challenge will be forgotten tomorrow. Except by you. You will always bear the scars for momentary popularity. Sadly, everyone else will move on to the next thing by the weekend.
- “I’m so glad I [insert dangerous activity here],” said no one ever. If you’re truly honest with yourself, is this a risk you will be proud you made looking back two weeks from now? Or two months from now?
- The challenge isn’t really all that popular. And there’s a reason for that. The “wow factor” people might have doesn’t mean they are impressed in a positive way. Shock doesn’t equal approval.
- Take better risks. For example, start a club at school, ask out a guy or girl you perceive is out of your league, help someone who can’t repay you, go zip lining (and video that), challenge yourself to grow as a person (rather than focus on convincing others you are worth their attention by participating in a fleeting craze). Use your adventurous spirit to leave a positive impact on others.
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 romantic crush 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 uploaded to the internet never truly leaves. Their job or college of choice, in addition to a boy or girl of romantic interest, could potentially see this and understandably turn them down because of their participation in this 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.
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