Teenagers have always experienced peer pressure. In this electronic era, social media has added another layer of peer pressure for teens. Additionaly social media has served as a way to spread misinformation to so many families during a global pandemic.
It’s important for parents to talk to their children about the dangers of participating in activities based on pressure from peers. The viral nature of social media “challenges,” such as the Cinnamon challenge and Tide pod challenge, can lead to unwise choices based on a desire to be part of the group.
The combination of social media and peer pressure can have powerful effects in this era of instant communication.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University found that social media plays a role in teens’ decision to use drugs and alcohol. The study found that 75 percent of teenagers who saw pictures of teens at a party with alcohol or marijuana on social media sites encouraged them to do the same.
Peer pressure can also encourage risky phone behavior such as “sexting.” This can put teens in contact with a dangerous crowd, including adult predators, and cause psychological harm.
You may recall, a dangerous activity—the “Tide pod challenge”—emerged through social media and peer pressure. Teens dared each other to eat Tide detergent pods, which is similar to consuming poison and can have deadly effects.
According to data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), the centers nationwide handled 92 cases of intentional exposure to laundry packets among kids 13-19 in 2016 and ’17 combined. This year, the poison control centers had already handled 186 cases through Feb. 21.
In more recent months, teens and students across the country have found themselves in trouble with law enforcement after participating in social media challenge that encouraged them to steal items from their schools and classrooms.
Tips for Parents and Caregivers
One way to decrease the likelihood teens will participate in risky activities is for adults to talk with them—in a way that shows they care.
Here are some tips for discussing risky behavior with your child:
- Have open and honest conversations.
- Find an opportunity to have a conversation when you both are calm.
- Ask questions in a way that lets your child know you care about them and are concerned.
- Some questions to consider:
- Have you heard about the _____ challenge?
- What are your thoughts about it?
- Do you have any friends who have participated in the challenge?
- Have you or are you considering participating as well?
- What do you think would happen?
- Listen without judgment.
- Seek to understand first. Ask questions that help you understand your child’s thoughts and feelings before providing your thoughts. Try not to overreact to what they say or accuse them.
- Educate your child from a place of concern. Give them a chance to think through the consequences themselves by asking questions that build their problem-solving skills.
- Let your child know you believe they can be successful.
If parents notice any sign that their child may be considering harming themselves, the next step is to talk to their child. Experts say the best path is to bring the subject into the open.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) or the statewide crisis hotline (1-855-CRISIS-1).