Popular social media challenges grab teen brains – here’s how parents can get their kids to think

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The viral social media trend started innocently enough.

In early 2010 it was plankingHarlem Shake dance. and lip sync to Carly Rae Jepsen’s summer anthem”call me Maybe“.

Then he came ice bucket challengewhich he picked up an estimated $115 million for research on ALS.

In recent years, social media challenges have become more popular and more dangerous, leading to serious injuries and even deaths. It’s not hard to see why. The Milk crate challenge encourages people to walk or run around a loosely stacked pyramid of milk crates, Tidal Capsule Challenge consists of eating capsules with washing powder and Benadryl’s Challenge encourages taking six or more doses of over-the-counter allergy medications at the same time.

As researchers in clinical psychology, we investigate why social media is a challenge they are so attractive to teenagers despite the dangers they pose and the steps parents can take to protect their children.

The appeal of viral acrobatics

Almost all American teenagers today have access to a smartphone and actively use many social media platforms – such as YouTube, TikTok, Instagram or Snapchat The most popular among this age group.

Meanwhile, the teenage years are associated with increased risk. The human brain is not fully developed until a person reaches the mid-20sand the parts of the brain related to rewarding and doing what you enjoy develop faster than the areas related to decision making. As a result, teens are more likely to act impulsively and risk physical injury to gain popularity.

Teenagers are also particularly vulnerable to social pressure.

A 2016 study found that teenagers were more likely to “like” the photo— even if it showed drug or alcohol use — if the photo had more “likes” than peers. The same study also found that the activity of the reward centers in teens’ brains increased when viewing posts with more “likes.” Simply put, teens pay more attention to social media content with a lot of “likes” and views.

At best, this susceptibility to social pressure may result in, say, the purchase of a particular brand of sneakers. However, in the worst case scenario, it can prompt teens to perform dangerous stunts to impress or amuse their friends.

In our work, we’ve found that celebrities, musicians, athletes and influencers can too increase teenage risky behaviorsuch as the use of alcohol and drugs, especially because they get a lot of likes and attract a huge number of followers on social media.

Today’s teenagers can find it harder to resist social pressure. Not only do they have unlimited access to their peers and other influencers, but online social networks are much larger, with teens being followed by hundreds and sometimes thousands of online users.

What can parents do

Below are five ways parents can help their teenager resist social pressure and avoid the risks of social media trends.

1. Listen to your teen

Parents can learn more about social media by asking teens open-ended questions about their experiences, such as, “Has anything you’ve seen on Instagram recently upset you?”

Share your own concerns about social media by listening to your teen’s thoughts and perspectives. This kind of open communication can improve children’s mental health and social skills.

Research also shows that watching media content with teens—and discussing issues that arise during and after media use—helps kids brain development and critical thinking. It can also help answer questions or clarify incorrect information.

2. Talk about what is satisfying

Teenagers don’t always know why they engage in certain behaviors or are curious about dangerous activities. Conversation with them about what they enjoy about “likes,” and online comments can help them identify similar rewarding offline experiences — such as joining a school sports team or an after school club. Research shows it participation in sports it is a helpful way to build your own social identity, self-esteem and meaningful connections with others.

3. Talk about what is risky

He often posts on social media glorify risky behavior. For example, alcohol related posts focus on the funny aspects and avoid depicting blackouts or injuries. Similarly, teens see “likes” and views on social media challenges, but they don’t see hospitalizations and deaths.

Parents can talk to teens about this vulnerability. Since teens are often more knowledgeable about the latest social media challenges, ask them about it and help them think through possible risks.

4. Get information

One of the best ways to connect with teens is learn about topics that interest them. If they like Instagram, consider creating your own account and ask them to show you the ropes on the platform, as teaching others can be rewarding for teenagers. Also, take the time to explore for yourself and stay up to date on social media features, challenges and risky trends.

5. Make a plan

AND family media plan can help you and your teen agree on screen-free time, media curfews, and ways to choose good media habits. Social media can also help teenagers make friends, stay in touch with distant friends and family members, reduce stress, and access medical providers, help lines, or other physical and mental health support tools.

Develop a plan so that all family members can enjoy the benefits of social media. Your family can always change the media plan when your child grows up.

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