Harmful social media and drug trends incredibly accessible to youth
Do you know what the “Put ’Em in a Coffin” challenge is? Ever heard of flakka? Chances are the teens in your life know about these and more or are about to find out. While parents, caregivers, therapists, and school staff catch up on each other’s milestones on Facebook, the current social media and drug trends are passing by well-intentioned adults. In the meantime, our youth are at risk.
In this technology-saturated world, information is getting to young people like never before, and unfortunately, it is not all good. For all the positive attention given to young entrepreneurs, fundraisers, and kind community members, the allure of notoriety for stunts, challenges, and fitting in with antisocial peers is far more accessible for today’s teens. So what are parents to do when trends are changing by the day, and we don’t know what we don’t know?
Keeping up to date
Keeping up on current social media trends, social media platforms and drug trends is a must if you want to protect your children. Parents and professionals alike need to have a way to access the ever-changing trends with solid processes that keep them informed. The following are three resources to help keep you up to date.
Resource 1: Google Alerts
While The Huffington Post, Slate and other blogs and sites share up-to-date goings-on, it is quite time consuming to comb through these resources to find what you need. On the other hand, Google Alerts is an effective and efficient tool for keeping you aware of the latest information. By setting some simple Google Alerts, the search engine will review all the sources, and you will be emailed when there are updates of interest. I suggest setting alerts for “alarming social-media trends,” “drug trends,” “social-media platforms,” “teen drug trends” and “teen social-media trends.” The word “emerging” paired with these is also helpful.
Be wary—some of the things that pop up will not be pleasant to watch. The “Coffin Challenge” posts on YouTube may seem harmless, but kids are being arrested, charged with vandalism and paying hefty restitution in addition to getting seriously injured for this absurd behavior. A rapper named VonMar was arrested for vandalism and felony theft and hit with a $250,000 bond from the unamused judge.
The “Condom Challenge” is gross, risky and can result in asphyxiation. The eating disorder and self-harm-related posts on Instagram are particularly upsetting. (Look for #MIA for bulimia, #ANA for anorexia, and #CAT or #CUT for self-harm.) While these images are disturbing, and may be triggering for some, it is important to know what is out there because you can bet your kids will. For instance, did you know that your adolescent daughter wearing a red-beaded bracelet on her left wrist could mean she identifies as pro-anorexia or pro-ana? A search for pro-ana bracelets on Etsy returned five results for the bracelets that help youth with eating disorders identify and encourage each other in sticking to their destructive eating and lifestyles. Wearers are told to “notice” another’s bracelet, point to their own and see if they can make a connection.
Resource 2: National Institute on Drug Abuse
Another great resource for parents is the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) website. Simply checking it once a month will keep you informed about new trends. (See “Emerging Trends” link for parents and educators, and “Monitoring the Future” for easy access to the latest information.) NIDA also updates information about commonly abused drugs and medications, and shows parents what these look like so they can effectively search their home. Check out the new popular drug, flakka. Flakka is currently big in South Florida. Keep in mind, like trends in fashion and music, what starts in the cities will migrate to a small town near you. Being aware of the trends before they reach you opens up opportunities to talk to your children about the dangers before they are presented with the drug.
Resource 3: Communication
Finally, ask teens! Who are the young people in your life? Your nieces, nephews, and kids in your community are a valuable source of information. I have a couple “confidential informants” at our gym. They let me know what social media platforms they are using. As more parents (and even grandparents) sign up for Facebook, kids flee. Kik, Instagram, Vine, YouTube, YouNow (which live-streams your antics), Path, and Tumblr are more popular—at least today. Taylor Swift showed the power of social media this summer when her Tumblr post caused Apple to change its business model. Once you are current, remember to share this information with family members, educators and other parents. The more we all know, the safer we can keep our kids. Post updates and blogs to your Facebook page. All the adults are there to see it.
What to do
Smartphones are a window to the world. If your children are bringing an inappropriate world into your home and their lives, you can bet that inappropriate behaviors will follow. Teen brains are not wired to assess risk, and the pressure to fit in combined with the opportunity for social-media fame and acceptance through Likes and followers make them susceptible to dangerous choices. Add that vulnerability to the amount of information available, and it is a recipe for disaster. Parents need to set clear limits and boundaries, and we've provided three strategies to help you do just that.
Strategy 1: Be in charge of charging
First, when a new device comes into your home—keep the charger. Set up a charging station in your home. Make it clear you will be charging all devices every night and that you will also be monitoring social media. Take time to check what your child and his or her friends are doing online. Get passwords and access. Some parents have rules that the youth is not allowed to clear histories out of apps and browsers. Establish clear rules about what social media sites are allowed, what contacts within those sites are acceptable, and what the privacy settings need to be. Send your teens a clear message. “I love you, I want you to be safe, and I will monitor you. In all ways.” Just the act of you monitoring may dissuade kids from impulsively taking inappropriate photos or engaging in certain conversations via text or iMessage. Obviously, this works best when you set up these limits before the phone is activated, but it is never too late to revisit the boundaries.
Strategy 2: Download a parental control app
Software and apps can support your parenting efforts. Net Nanny runs in the background of the family computer to block sites, take screenshots and otherwise track what is happening online for you to review and respond. New apps like Ignore No More are being developed every day. With Ignore No More, you can lock down your teen’s phone if she or he ignores your calls and texts. Your teen cannot make calls, text or use the Internet until you, as the parent administrator, unlock the phone. Lots of parental control for very little money. BuzzFeed even compiled a list of 21 parenting apps that includes those ranging from monitoring your child via GPS to finding the nearest public bathroom.
Technology is always changing. Adding “parenting apps” to your Google Alerts will help you stay current.
Strategy 3: Take a class to fine tune your knowledge
All of this requires you to know HOW to use these devices. If you are not tech savvy, it’s time to “phone a friend.” Which friends of yours are up on the technology? Reach out to them. You can also enlist help from the Apple Store, Microsoft Store or wherever smartphones are sold. People are more than happy to help. Often, they are just waiting for you to ask.
Don't turn your back on the ocean
During our family vacations on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, my mother’s frequent and sometimes urgently yelled message was “Do not turn your back on the ocean!” Turning away from the oncoming waves would result in being pushed under by a wave or worse, being sucked out to sea in a riptide. If you have a teen or love a teen, social media platforms, challenges, trends and emerging drug crazes are the ocean you cannot afford to turn your back on.