Social media is a driving force in teenage life. Instant messaging, “selfies“, profile updates and “trending” pop culture are a way of life for the 92% of teens that browse the internet every day. Although, social media has the potential to be a powerful tool, its benefits are often overshadowed by its dangerous risks. While teen and tween girls seem to be the most at risk for cyberbullying, poor self-esteem, and “smartphone addiction”, new research shows that boys are just as prone to social media-driven dangers.
Social Media Dares
In 2013, emergency poison centers around the country received 178 frantic calls for a surprising new overdose-cinnamon. Around the United States teens were voluntarily inhaling spoonfuls of cinnamon as part of a popular YouTube dare. Over 40,000 of these “Cinnamon Challenge” videos were uploaded to YouTube and other social media sites. Although some teens managed to “successfully” swallow the spice, many others weren’t so lucky. Collapsed lungs, choking, breathing issues, and lung scarring were serious medical issues that many teens faced.
The Cinnamon Challenge isn’t the only social media dare to excite teens. In 2015, another extreme dare hit the internet. The “Fire Challenge” proved deadly for a 15-year-old boy from New York. After dousing himself with rubbing alcohol and lighting himself afire, he died from severe burns when he couldn’t extinguish the flames in time. Others received 3rd and 5th degree burns when their stunt went wrong.
Boys in particular are especially driven to reach out and try risky, exciting things. These internet dares and extreme stunts can be extremely tempting for some. Each one promises exciting adrenaline rushes, thrills, and internet popularity.
Many teens feel the increasing need to become romantically involved at a much younger age. On average, boys as young as 13 are attempting to form serious attachments. While there is nothing inherently wrong with new relationships, without the proper boundaries, emotions and sexual risks can quickly spiral out of control. The CDC reports that 15 to 24-year-olds make up half of reported STDs. Unsafe sex is just one potential risk in forming unhealthy relationships.
Unfortunately, social media is often the “supplier” for these risky relationships. Boys that see their friends engaging in intimate behavior or bragging about new boyfriends or girlfriends are much more prone to try and find new experiences on their own. The huge prevalence of pornography and other sexually explicit material on the internet catalyzes natural teen curiosity toward unsafe sources of information and experimentation. Some relationships seem “fun” and “exciting” from the view of a screen, but may prove catastrophic in real life.
Body Image Risks
While teen girls are often stereotyped as the only victim of poor self-esteem, researchers such as Dr. Harrison Pope, a Harvard psychiatry professor explains that boys are just as prone to unhealthy body image risks. More and more teen boys are being conditioned by social media and culture to believe that a chiseled, lean boys is attractive. Obsessive exercise programs, body-building, dieting, and even steroids are real dangers that many teen boys face, particularly those involved in sports.
While there is nothing wrong with wanting to be in shape and healthy, some obsessive fitness programs can easily come to resemble eating disorders and self-harm. Without a healthy self-image, some teen boys can be drive to great lengths to obtain the “perfect body type” of a professional athlete or fellow teammates.
How to Reduce the Risks as Parents?
As parents, we can’t ignore the dangers that social media may present. Watching for warning signs and keeping an open dialogue with our teens is key for preventing future dangers. It’s far better to catch issues when they’re small. Although, changes are often better ways to gauge what’s happening inside their minds.
Some of the most critical warning signs may include:
- Long periods alone on their smartphone, tablet, or computers
- Sudden new relationships, spending unhealthy amounts of time alone with new friends
- Appearing secretive with internet search history
- Obsessive interest in fitness and body image (unhealthy workouts, obsessively counting calories, fasting, unhealthy use of protein powder and or other supplements)
- Sudden interest in new stunts or extreme activities (signs of them filming themselves while doing them)
Although talking with your teen about these warning signs may be difficult, show them that you love them and care for their safety. Explain the dangers and risks that are tied to each of these social media hazards. Help them realize that other teens have suffered from the same type of behaviors.
Teen boys are far more willing to listen to a loved one that talks to them openly and honestly about the risks they face.
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Also published on Medium.