Heather Gray advises parents to step away from the alarm button and use new teen trends as teachable moments.
You may have seen the apocalyptic warnings about kids crushing and snorting Smartiescandies. Maybe a video of the cinnamon challenge that kids are doing has found its way into your newsfeed. I’ve been talking to parents about these latest kid trends and reactions range from five alarm meltdown to an apathetic “Eh, Boys will be boys, huh?”
Such responses can be more concerning than the trends, themselves. Yes, kids are crushing these sugar candies and snorting the sugar dust up their nose. They are also daring one another to eat a tablespoon of cinnamon without water in a 30 second span of time. Both trends are available for your video-watching pleasure/dismay on YouTube.
Both trends come with concerning health risks for kids. The sugar dust that Smarties leaves behind in the nasal passage can lead to infection in the lungs or nasal cavity, according to the Mayo Clinic. Similar symptoms are associated with inhaling cinnamon.
Trends like this come and go and can be found in every generation (Mentos and Diet Coke, anyone?). Social media has only increased the appeal, visibility and speed at which such stunts become popular. Then, thanks to the 24/7 news cycle, we can quickly be warned that death might find kids who try such things.
Parenting in the digital age isn’t easy but social media brings us a gift. It’s social. It creates opportunity for discussion and that is what’s important here: Talking to your kids. Hearing their perspective. Sharing your values and teaching them how to move through a world where the next trend is only a click away.
Blowing off the latest kid trend as “boys will be boys” is a missed opportunity.
If you do look up either of these challenges online, you will see that girls are doing these things just as often as boys. They’re at risk, too, and we can’t just shrug this off as a “boys thing.” It’s a kids thing. Kids are doing this. Saying “boys will be boys” also sounds like permission to many. Kids will hear your silence on the issue and take it as permission. You may not want to get the shackles to lock them to the house but do you want them thinking you approve of this?
Your silence also reads as a lack of interest.
Don’t you want to know why kids do such things? Aren’t you curious? Do you really think this about them wanting sugar dust in their nostrils? That they’re just clamoring for an opportunity to cough ridiculously in front of the World Wide Web? Of course, not.
Kids are testing limits and this doesn’t always mean they are testing rules. Developmentally, they are only just beginning to learn about their personal power and are discovering more that they are physically capable of with each passing day. The pre-teens and teens are raging with hormones that create crazy energy in them. They can’t sit still. They are trying to separate themselves from the adults and what better way to do that than do something an adult is less likely to do?
Slowly back away from the alarm button, too.
The newsfeeds love to warn you about the dangers and risks of kid trends. If they can mention death, they get even more clicks and page views. It works in their favor to alarm you. Before you get alarmed and drink the whole gallon of Kool-Aid, take a deep breath. Research whatever the latest trend is and get a sense of the actual risks from sources you trust.
Use the trend as a teachable moment.
At a neutral time, ask your child if he/she has heard about the latest thing kids are doing. Regardless if you hear yes or no, ask your child to sit down and watch a few of the videos with you. It’s ok to laugh when you think something’s funny and it’s ok to show concern when you’re really worried about what you’re seeing. Have an honest reaction. This will give your child permission to do the same. Ask your child what he/she thinks. Ask why you think the kids are doing it. Get a sense of where your kid is at in the kid trend. Disinterested? Bored? (I know you’re hoping for these!) Curious? Tempted? Try to gauge where your child is at.
Don’t avoid the tough questions. The first thing I thought of when I first saw that kids were sniffing Smarties was that it sounded like the start of curiosity about drug use. Kids could either mimic drug-using behavior and feel like they were being “bad” without actually being “bad” or they could try the behavior out to see if they liked it. Either way, I associated this trend with drugs. You probably did, too so ask about it. Say something like “Gee, you think these kids are trying this out because they’re curious about drug use?” You just can’t dodge the tough questions out of fear of “giving your child ideas.” Your silence leaves too many risks still in the silence that gets created by avoidance.
Include your child in determining the risks. Say “Ok, we’ve seen the fun. Let’s find out the facts.” Acknowledge how the internet likes to blow risks out of proportion but that knowing the actually risks is still pretty important. Look at a couple of different sites with your child. Maybe you can decide together what is fact and what is exaggerated click-bait.
Recognize the appeal in risk taking. Talk about your own risks you took as a kid. Acknowledge the social component and how it’s tempting to do what other kids are doing. It can also be scary and intimidating for a kid to choose not to do something “everyone else is doing.” Really express your understanding of the appeal. You may not get the behavior but chances are there is some part of this that you really do get. Use that to connect. Alarm, dismay, and judgment shut conversations down. Stay open and curious.
Tell your child exactly what you want them to think.
Your kid may not agree with you and you may be on opposite sides of the issue, but use the moment to tell your child exactly what you want him or her to think any time a new trend comes along. You can say something like “You may want to take risks and test boundaries. The social scenario is a constant maze for you. I’m sorry it’s so confusing. It was confusing for me and I didn’t have to deal with social media or have an audience while I figured things out.” This connecting is so important because then you’re going to say something like: “That being said, I am not ok with the things these kids are doing in the video. I don’t want you making these choices. I worry that it will lead to riskier behavior down the line and am worried that you’ll blow off the risk and we’ll end up sitting in a doctor’s office while you cough from an infection.”
Bring it back to the issue of trust.
Most discussions with kids involve trust. They have to earn it, you have to give it, and it has to be negotiated. Acknowledge that your child doesn’t live in a bubble and that these trends will find him/her at some point. Reiterate your trust in their decision making and how it impacts your relationship with them. This lays down the foundation for what the consequences will be if your child chooses this behavior after having talked about it. Thank your child for hanging out and sticking through a tough talk and then say something like “I hope you don’t choose to get on this particular bandwagon but if you do, it will change how much freedom I give you in decision-making in the future. You may need to go to the doctor’s and rule out any medical harm and while that may embarrass you, it would be necessary given the research we saw.”
Take a deep breath and hold tight.
This trend will pass and you still have to be prepared for the next one.
Photo: Richard Elzey/Flickr