Teens and Social Media Fads & Challenges

In today’s culture, people are drawn toward participation in social media challenges, and teenagers are no exception. You likely remember popular fads and challenges in recent years like the Ice-Bucket Challenge, the Fire Challenge, the Cinnamon Challenge, Bottle Flipping, and the Duct Tape Challenge. More recently, we’ve seen the One Finger Challenge, the Slime craze, and the Eraser Challenge.

While some fads like the Ice-Bucket Challenge are benign in nature and their participants rally around a worthy cause, others like the Fire Challenge are inherently dumb and dangerous, and yet others are somewhere in-between.

Yet in the world of adolescence, not much is simple and common sense does not always carry the day when discernment is needed. Science tells us that teen brains are wired for thrill seeking and risk-taking, which aligns nicely with faddish challenges. To this, add the component of peer pressure plus teens’ desires for affirmation and fame delivered through viral social media, and challenges are a perfect fit for teen participation.

But a very real problem is that teens don’t always assess potential consequences in advance, or take steps to minimize risks, and as a result are susceptible to dangers that may not be obvious, but exist nonetheless.

This seems to have been the issue in 2016 when a Washington State teen took the Duct Tape Challenge, but things went horribly wrong. Two peers wrapped a 14-year-old boy’s hands and legs with duct tape and waited for him to escape. As the boy struggled to free himself, he fell forward and hit his head on the corner of a window frame, and then slammed his head onto a concrete floor. The boy’s eye socket and cheek bone were broken and the trauma caused brain bleeding. The boy required emergency surgery, and lost the sight in his left eye.

This doesn’t mean that the Duct Tape Challenge was inherently dangerous, but does go to show that teens don’t always make safe and wise decisions when participating in fads and challenges.

What Can Parents Do?
• Ask your kids what types of challenges are currently popular with teenagers.
• Ask your teens if they have watched challenge videos online. If they have, ask them to show some of them to you. As you watch, ask about them what they think about what they’ve seen.
• Use the Washington State teen’s story as a case study to highlight potential risks of seemingly benign faddish challenges.
• Discuss with your teen the role peer pressure plays in tempting kids to take risks.
• Discuss with your teen the role that seeking validation from others plays when teens post videos like these to social media sites.

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Jim Liebelt

Jim is Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for HomeWord. Jim has over 35 years of experience as a youth and family ministry specialist, having served over the years as a pastor, author, consultant, mentor, trainer, college instructor, and speaker. Jim’s HomeWord culture blog also appears on Crosswalk.com and Religiontoday.com. Jim and his wife Jenny live in Quincy, MA.

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