Experts’ tips for helping teens resist risky online challenges

Some challenges have caused deaths

From snorting condoms to finding out how many marshmellows they can put in their mouth, there have been many online challenges that have gone viral in recent years.

Many are harmless and fun and the ice bucket challenge raised an estimated $115 million for charity.

But some have been dangerous and even caused deaths. In April, a 13-year-old Ohio boy died after taking part the Benadryl challenge, which involves consuming large quantities of the over-the-counter allergy medication.

Several children died after playing the ‘Blackout Challenge’ in 2021, including two girls, aged 8 and 9, and a 12-year-old boy, all from the US.

Doctors reported the ‘Milk Crate Challenge’, which encouraged users to stack and climb milk crates, led to dislocated shoulders, knee ligament tears and even spinal cord injuries.

Writing for The Conversation, two experts from Florida International University explain why online challenges are so appealing to teenagers and what parents can do to help them be responsible. They say that almost all teens have a smartphone and use social media and the teenage brain is prone to risk taking.

Elisa M. Trucco, associate professor of psychology and Julie Cristello, doctoral candidate in clinical science advise parents:

1. Listen to your teen – ask open-ended questions about their experiences online. “Research also shows that watching media content with your teens – and discussing issues that come up during and after media use – helps with children’s brain development and critical thinking,” they say.

2. Talk about what is rewarding – and how sport can offer an alternative, building young people’s social identity, self-esteem and meaningful connections with others.

3. Talk about what is risky – help them think through possible risks of posts that glamorise risky behaviour such as alcohol use.

4. Get informed – “One of the best ways to connect with teens is to learn about topics that interest them” say the experts.

5. Make a plan – so as a family you can agree on screen-free times and good social media habits.

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