From the beginning of time, tweens and teens have engaged in risky behaviors. Maybe it’s mean girls drama or a fracas in the school hallway. Maybe it’s smoking, drinking or experimenting with illegal drugs. Maybe it’s trying to stand out in – or with – the crowd, engaging in risky behaviors because friends say they’re doing it too.
But, these days, the bullying doesn’t just happen in the school halls, the experimentation might not start with a pack of cigarettes and those risky behaviors don’t end at morning pickup after a sleepover.
Thanks, or no thanks, to technology and new products, there’s a world of new temptations for adolescents. It’s important for parents to be aware.
As a new school year begins, here are four things parents should be on the look out for.
Hot Water Challenge
This is another one of those viral video pranks that seem to captivate kids momentarily – before they move on to the next. Other examples: The Eraser Challenge, where kids see who can endure the worst wound when they rub a rubber eraser on their skin. Or there was the Duct Tape Challenge, where kids wrapped a friend’s body in duct tape and watched how long it took for them to emerge.
Now, there’s the Hot Water Challenge which, according to this WRAL.com story, involves pouring boiling water on a friend who’s not expecting it or daring a friend to drink boiling water through a straw. At least one child has died from this stunt and others, including a North Carolina boy, have been seriously injured.
Pass Out Challenge or Choking Game
I share this one, not because it’s new, but because it’s an activity that just won’t stop and, very sadly, its repercussions hit my own family this year. The death of my nephew’s friend’s 11-year-old brother appears to be linked to the choking game. His parents spoke out in a newspaper article in June in their hometown of Juneau, Alaska, to make others aware of this very dangerous pastime.
It essentially involves attempts to make yourself or somebody else choke or pass out – sometimes through physically pressing down on somebody’s chest or the use of a rope – to get high. Kids are dying or suffering permanent brain damage as a result. G.A.S.P., which stands for Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play, has more information. The group was set up by parents of choking game victims.
In the category of worrisome apps, let’s take a look at the latest – Sarahah. As an article on WRAL.com shared, Sarahah is an anonymous messaging service originally developed so employees could give their employers anonymous feedback without fear of getting disciplined or fired.
It was then released for personal use so friends – and others – could tell people what they really thought of them. An English version was released two months ago and has more than 15 million users.
Teens are using Sarahah by linking it with their SnapChat account, the social media app that’s wildly popular with adolescents. Now, according to the story, users can embed their Sarahah link into one of the snaps in their Snap Story and find out what everybody really thinks of them. And, not surprisingly, teens report that Sarahah, like other apps that allow for anonymous commenting before it, has led to bullying, drama and worse.
According to an article in New York Magazine, one parent wrote in a review of the app: “My son signed up for an account, and within 24 hours someone posted a horrible racist comment on his page, including saying that he should be lynched. The site is a breeding ground for hate.”
Vaping and juuling
The good news is that fewer teens are smoking cigarettes – the traditional and electronic versions. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June, the number of middle and high school students who say they are current tobacco users dropped from 4.7 million in 2015 to 3.9 million in 2016. The decline, according to the CDC, was “primarily driven by a drop in e-cigarette use among middle and high school students from 3 million in 2015 to just under 2.2 million in 2016.”
Still, that means millions of tweens and teens are sucking in chemicals through a variety of methods – most commonly e-cigarettes, which are sold with kid-friendly flavors like candy and ice cream. Why is that bad? A refresher …
“Tobacco use in any form, including e-cigarettes, is unsafe for youth,” said Corinne Graffunder, Dr.PH, M.P.H., director of CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. “Tobacco products contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can harm the developing adolescent brain.”
These days, electronic cigarettes come in all shapes and forms. That includes the Juul, which looks a lot like a flash drive and is becoming popular with kids.
What can parents do to protect their kids from any of these fads and challenges?
Be aware. Educate yourself about the latest social media challenges or apps that might be tempting kids.
Have open conversations with your kids. Don’t launch into a monologue about the dangers of vaping or the stupidity of playing a life-threatening “game.” Nobody likes getting a lecture – especially if they aren’t engaging in any of those activities. Ask your kids open ended questions and really listen to what they have to say. That doesn’t mean you can’t make your concerns and expectations crystal clear. But, open and supportive discussions now will help to ensure that, when they have questions or need help, they’ll more likely come to you for support.
Take advantage of teachable moments. You’re not one and done with talks with your kids about things like not getting involved in a dangerous social media challenge or making unhealthy decisions. News stories, TV shows, movies, song lyrics, stubbed out cigarettes on the street all provide opportunities to talk about making safe choices.
Build a team of parent friends. Parenting tweens and teens is really hard work. You’ll need some shoulders to lean on. What’s more, if those friends are the parents of your kids’ friends, you’ll have more eyes and ears on the ground if they do start getting involved in dangerous activities.
Know that your kids are listening – and watching. With the constant eye rolls and slammed doors, it might be hard to realize that your kids are actually listening to the words coming out of your mouth. But, experts say, they are. They also are watching your every move. So make sure you’re making wise choices, too. If you’re smoking, find a way to stop. If you’re hung up on how popular your Facebook and Instagram posts are, think about how your kids may translate your own excitement about each of those likes and loves in their own social media lives.
Make time for them. All of our lives are busy, but our lives as a parent with a child at home is fleeting. Make sure you’re making time for them through family dinners, movie nights, family bike rides or other regular activities. In the car, instead of checking your phone at the red light, put it down. Start up a conversation. Ask a question. Talk to them about their own passions. Find out what’s exciting them these days. They might respond with an eye roll, but those moments add up – and really do matter.