Generation Z is at it again. As if the Tide Pod, ghost pepper, and Birdbox challenges weren’t hazardous enough, teens are now trying the “tripping jump” challenge, the toilet-licking coronavirus challenge, and the “shell on” challenge. In this last viral quest, a kid might, for example, eat an orange without removing the peel, or an egg that’s still in its shell.
Why in the world do kids do viral challenges like this, you ask?
Well, in days of yore – like the ’90s – making friends didn’t require teens to be quite so industrious. Now, the struggle to set oneself apart on a massive and dynamic social media stage is leading to questionable and potentially deadly behavior.
“Most of Generation Z grew up completely immersed in social media. The pressure to be noticed and to conform to social trends, regardless of the danger, is monumental,” family therapist Jessica Whitehead tells Parentology. “For today’s teens, the desire to be ‘liked’ and to receive validation from one’s peers is greater than we’ve ever seen before.”
The Deeper Dangers of These Viral Challenges
The “shell on” challenge has flourished on Snapchat, but even this seemingly benign act has its perils, say doctors. Unless the discerning teenager washes the piece of fruit before consuming it, they could be ingesting pesticides. Things like eggshells can carry salmonella.
However, more ambitious challenge participants are ingesting candy wrappers, cardboard, and plastic grocery bags. While you probably don’t need an expert to tell you that eating a Twinkie wrapper is not in your body’s best interest, some teenagers aren’t terribly concerned. They justify the risk by convincing themselves that chewing through a plastic bag isn’t nearly as dicey as swallowing detergent.
Besides, there are all those “likes” and followers to gain.
But the dangers, Whitehead warns, go far beyond the physical. Participating in these viral challenges can cause lasting damage to a kid’s psyche.
“When a teenager’s identity is built upon something that is fleeting and meaningless, self-worth does not become an enduring emotional state. Instead, it becomes reliant on participation in the next trend, and the next one,” she explains. “It’s a vicious, self-eroding, and painful cycle.”
So, what do you do if you’re a parent and the thought of your kid making a video of himself eating plastic that will then follow him for the rest of his life makes you sick to your stomach? Is it enough to simply urge him to avoid such harmful endeavors?
Whitehead advises parents to take a more active and positive approach.
“Shaming or punishing the child will probably make things worse,” she cautions. “Try to understand what meaning they derive from doing this. Discuss what matters to them. Given that these trends are mostly about fitting in, find safe alternative activities that provide the child with the same benefit. For example, sports, music, or volunteering. These are activities that foster a positive sense of identity in an enduring and pro-social manner, while emphasizing the qualities that will make your child a successful and contented adult.”
Why Kids Do Viral Challenges? — Sources
Jessica Whitehead, Family Therapist