Why Are Social Media Challenges So Popular With Teens?
You’ve heard of them… The Ice Bucket Challenge, The Mannequin Challenge, The Don’t Judge Me/Ugly Challenge, and the now infamous Harlem Shake Challenge.
These popular and perpetual “challenges” bombard us on social media daily. The list is endless and our kids are obsessed with each one. Why? What about these scenarios causes them to gain such viral attention?
Newsweek recently featured an article dedicated to the phenomena of social media challenges and the teenage brain. The reckless stupidity of teens has been exasperating parents since the beginning of time.
Social media only enhances it. This is because their brains are programmed to seek out new experiences to encourage learning, but unfortunately, teenagers don’t yet possess the ability to make rational choices. It’s not stupidity or a death wish, it’s incomplete and still immature brain development. Toss in the appeal of 30 seconds of fame, and some kids will try just about anything. Add puberty to this mix, and things only worsen in the judgement department. Much to parents’s chagrin, social media is there to capture it all.
During puberty, the brain produces extra levels of hormones, including dopamine, to gear up for sexual maturity. Dopamine generates that “feel good” sensation that drives people to do what feels pleasurable. The teenage brain is loaded with dopamine, so it is driven to seek out constant stimuli and reward. This means things that feel good in general feel amazing to a teenager, and they’ll execute poor judgement to achieve the sensation.
In a nutshell, a kid might complete a silly challenge like dumping ice water on himself to seek thrill and attention. Then, because it is liked and shared over and over again on social media, the feel good feeling is amplified. Hence, the addiction of teenagers and social media challenges.
Intensifying the situation, social media use peaks with teenagers ages 13-17, just as sensation-seeking behavior generally starts. In 2015, the Pew Research Center found the majority of teens go online daily, and a whopping quarter of them are on “almost constantly.”
Kids used to make friends with their neighbors, schoolmates, and teammates. Now they make them online with people they may or may not actually know. Social media plays a critical role in connecting teens to these new friends, allowing them to meet new people, gain information, and build relationships easier and much more quickly. It’s a critical platform with teens. 83% state it makes them feel more connected and involved with what’s going on with their peers. They look seeing what others are doing, and they crave and seek out approval through likes and views. It’s a powerful tool that feeds and breeds popularity, whether real or perceived, and a whole slew of potential self-esteem issues.
What’s the Danger?
Unfortunately, social media challenges aren’t all fun and games. Although some of them are completely harmless, there are some with potentially dangerous and life threatening risks.
Serious injury and even death have occurred while peers watched and recorded it all for social media glory. Parents should be aware of them and discuss the hazards with their teens. Ten of the most dangerous are the following:
- The Chubby Bunny Challenge – this involves seeing how many marshmallows someone can stuff in his mouth at once. Unfortunately, it is also a serious choking hazard and has caused kids to need immediate medical attention.
- The Condom Snorting Challenge – although the name in and of itself should be enough to deter participants, this challenge involves snorting a condom in through the nose and pulling it out through the mouth. The condoms can get lodged in the windpipe or the lungs and cause serious problems.
- The Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge – girls use a shot glass to engorge and enlarge their lips for an oversized pouty look. Because it involves some serious suction on the glass, the glass can break and cause lacerations, bruising, scarring, and permanent disfiguration.
- The Cinnamon Challenge – see if you can ingest a teaspoon of ground cinnamon in less than a minute without drinking anything, and you could end up with accidental inhalation into the lungs. This can cause lung damage, inflammation, and infection.
- The Salt & Ice Challenge – participants pour salt on their skin and then apply ice. This causes an intense burning sensation, but also can lead to frostbite and third degree burns and scarring.
- The Hot Pepper Challenge – eat chili peppers ranking amongst the highest on the Scoville Hotness scale. This can lead to vomiting, hallucinations, and esophageal ulceration.
- The Choking Game – although this just sounds like a bad idea, some people will purposefully get choked and intentionally cut off their oxygen supply for a temporary “high”. They could also get brain damage and a funeral.
- The Eraser Challenge – this involves using a pink eraser to “erase” the skin while reciting the alphabet and stating a word starting with each letter. This can cause burns and deep cuts.
- The Fire Spray Challenge – exhale some form of combustible substance and light it on fire, creating a dragon-like fire breathing burst that can cause serious burns.
- The Fire Challenge – a more intense version of the fire spray challenge, this stunt actually has teens pouring a flammable substance on their skins and lighting themselves on fire. It has resulted in serious burns, scarring, disfigurement, and death.
As quickly as these challenges come into the limelight and fade, new ones will be created and brought to a social media frenzy. Be sure to talk to your kids about the latest trends, the dangers of some of these challenges, and how to be confident in who they are without needing social media approval.