The Dangers of Social Media on Teens

Teen boy on social media.

Peer pressure has always been there for individuals when they head into middle school and beyond. Preteens and teens are now experiencing something very different than generations before them. The world of social media is a reality which can add more extreme peer pressure into the mix. Thanks to this, everyone who works with teens needs to be cognizant of what is happening in their social media landscape. Together we need to monitor trends, challenges, and more.

Cyberbullying on Social Media

One persistent issue that is directly linked with social media and affects children of all ages, especially within a school system, is cyberbullying. The definition of cyberbullying according to stopbullying.gov is bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying is currently just as big of an issue, if not more, than traditional forms of bullying. Negative or personal content posted publicly online creates a kind of permanent public record that can be seen by thousands. Additionally, there is no time-constraint to cyberbullying since the internet is available 24 hours a day.

In an effort to fight against and prevent cyberbullying there are some actions parents and teachers can take. The most important step a parent or school professional can take is trying to aware of what a student is doing online. Are they using their devices more or less? Did they delete one of their social media accounts? Are they avoiding social situations? These are just some of the warning signs associated with cyberbullying. When cyberbullying happens, adults should learn exactly what happened, report it, and provide support for those in need.

Dangerous Social Media Challenges

Teens being challenged to do things that are not smart by their peers is nothing new. Schools and families have had to deal with teens snorting Smarties, ingesting a spoon full of cinnamon, eating a banana followed by a two-liter bottle of soda, and many others. Thanks to social media documenting these stunts, adults are more aware of what children may be trying. Here are some past viral social media challenges that were dangerous or damaging to teens.

The Tide Pod Challenge

The Tide Pod Challenge swept throughout the country. This challenge dared teens to put the Tide Pods into their mouth, which is the last place they should be. These laundry pods contain a highly concentrated form of the detergent. Initially, they can cause burns in the mouth. The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) warns that if the concentrated chemicals are ingested, it could cause a multitude of problems. Teens could be faced with seizures, pulmonary distress, respiratory arrest, coma, and possibly death.  In the first two weeks of 2018, more than 40 reports of exposure to liquid laundry detergent pods were made to the AAPCC for 13-19 year-olds. More startling is that more than half of those were deliberate.

The Cinnamon Challenge

The cinnamon challenge was another social media trend that went viral fast. The challenge simply consisted of eating a spoonful of dried cinnamon powder in under 60 seconds without drinking water. It might sound rather harmless but is in fact very dangerous. The powdered cinnamon coats the mouth and throat which results in severe coughing, gagging, and vomiting. Even worse, if the cinnamon is inhaled it will lead to breathing difficulties and increase the risk of pneumonia. 

The Kylie Lip Challenge

One of the more recent challenges, the Kylie Lip Challenge, named after Kylie Kardashian, requires putting your lips into a shot glass, small jar or bottle, then sucking out the air, creating a vacuum. The result is increased blood flow to the lips that cause them to swell and increase in size. This issue, however, is that this can cause severe bruising or even tissue damage to an already sensitive area of skin.

Social Media Safety Tips

Teens do not have fully developed prefrontal cortex regions of their brains. This means that they are not all able to understand long-term consequences via cause and effect. They may be impulsive and participate in challenges like this simply to gain peer approval.  Social media makes it even easier for them to find a funny video on YouTube which is popular and try to replicate it.

In the new age of social media, adults need to be on top of things. Counselors in school need to listen carefully to what they hear from students. All adults in school must watch social media references to schools to see if there are challenges taking place with their students. In addition to this, school counselors and social workers should work together with others to create ways to inform and educate not only students but families on the dangers.

Make sure there is a space for students to go where they can get information. A bulletin board in an office with information for students to gather facts. School websites could also have resources for safety, reporting information, and where to go for help.  In addition to this, PTA or similar groups may want to help and sponsor an information night for teens and families.  It would be a good time to reach out to members of the community to come in and talk about the true dangers of social media and impulsive challenges like the one mentioned.

What has your school done to get the word out about these tricky topics? Please share in the comments what has worked and how you would improve communication in this area.

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