The rise (and resurgence) of “internet challenges”

 

Daring to do risky and dangerous activities is not a new phenomenon for teens or even pre-teens. It was not that long ago that you either knew of someone or you were that someone jumping off a backyard garage, draped with a sheet, emulating the latest superhero.

As the Internet continues to infiltrate our lives, it is not surprising that dangerous behaviours and challenges are now being carried out and gaining traction online.  These risk-fuelled challenges are being posted or live-streamed and are spreading like wildfire - sometimes with fatal consequences.  

So how do we stay on top of these online trends and help our children understand the risks?

The truth is, young people are programmed to take risks. Impulse control is still developing in young people’s minds and the reward of their peers’ admiration often outweighs the merits of pragmatism, rules and safety.

Rather than worrying about what the next dangerous fad our children could be exposed to, it’s important that we focus on developing their critical reasoning skills — without introducing the idea of any particular “challenge” or risk-taking behaviour. This means encouraging our kids to question what they see online, even if it’s a friend who may be engaging with the risky site and weighing up the potential consequences.

Remembering the trusted adage that, “Just because everyone is doing something, it doesn’t mean you should.” The same platitude applies in the digital context. Help your child understand that participating in dangerous online challenges for ‘likes’ and followers on social media is not worth risking their physical well-being — or their lives.  

Advice for parents

  • Ask open-ended questions in a non-judgemental way about risk-taking behaviour and use this as an opportunity to talk about the issues. Shoulder-to-shoulder conversations, like when you’re driving in the car together, can make these talks less awkward.
  • Talk about the fact that sometimes when people are not feeling okay, they may think about hurting themselves. This may put people in danger and has the possibility of causing serious harm.
  • Ask questions about the games and apps your kids are using and what they are watching online. Some online content can encourage young people to do unsafe things, which may lead to serious harm.
  • Set age-specific rules around device-use, such as no phones after a particular time.
  • Use parental controls and safeguards on devices to help limit what your child is exposed to.
  • Help your child report and block disturbing content they see on social media sites or apps.

Most importantly, let your child know you are there to support them if they are uncomfortable about anything they see online. If they are struggling to open up or in need of further support, there are a range of mental health services that can assist: www.esafety.gov.au/online-wellbeing-hub or contact your family GP for referral to a mental health specialist.  

More advice and tips for helping your child stay safer online can be found at www.esafety.gov.au/parents.

For guidelines on responsible reporting of mental wellbeing and suicide, go to: www.mindframe-media.info.

With thanks to Headspace and Mindframe for their input into this blog.


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