BLOUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WIAT) — As the assistant principal at JB Pennington High School, Steven Bryson is passionate about social media safety in all forms. “Keep lines of communication open,” he said.
A moment in 2018 changed his perspective forever.
During a typical school day, Bryson witnessed an attempted kidnapping by a man who had met a student through a social media app.
“He tried to check her out of school,” said Bryson. “As an administrator, seeing everything I’ve seen makes me more aware of the bad guys out there.”
His awareness of the “bad guys” spans all social media platforms. And his caution not only serves his students but his children.
“As a father, I was very concerned when my children wanted to get social media. With their smartphone, kids have the whole world at their fingertips,” Bryson said.
With the whole world at their fingertips, it’s not always easy to control the content that your children see. That content can spread from predators messaging children to social media videos that entice kids into participating in dangerous challenges.
You might remember the viral “Tide Pod Challenge.” Now, there are even more social media trends and challenges. Some of them are life-threatening.
“We have seen kids who have had some long-term consequences, brain damage and even death, from these challenges,” said Alicia Webb, a Children’s of Alabama Emergency Medicine Physician.
Dangerous social media trends have sent some Alabama children to the ER under her care.
For example, the “Blackout Challenge,” where people intentionally starve themselves of oxygen and the “milk crate challenge,” where you stack milk crates to create wild stunts; the Benadryl challenge used to hallucinate intentionally, and the “dry scoop challenge,” where people eat whole scoops of energizing pre-workout powder.
“A very young person had a heart attack from taking that much energy substance,” Webb said.
And that Tide Pod Challenge has even come back. “When those tide pods pop, they can cause burns to the mouth, face, esophagus, and can cause lasting complications,” said Webb.
“Growing up in the 80s and 90s, we jumped bicycles off of ramps. Pretty mild stuff compared to a lot of the stuff today,” Bryson said.
Because these challenges show something dangerous as fun and exciting, Dr. Webb said kids naturally want to participate. And Bryson says some children are simply looking for attention.
“It’s almost like any attention is better than no attention. And I think attention-seeking children will do anything for approval by their peers – something to be noticed, and that’s dangerous,” said Bryson.
Both Bryson and Webb share similar messages on ways you can keep your children safe from the dark side of social media.
“My wife monitors all of our children’s social media. Everything comes through my wife’s phone too. So our kids know that she sees everything they do,” said Bryson.
“Just like you would want to make sure that you know where your child or teenager is, and who they’re hanging out with in person, know what they’re doing online,” Webb said.
And Dr. Webb says most of the time, her patients’ parents are shocked or completely unaware of what their children were participating in before they ended up in her emergency room.
And because these challenges change and evolve so rapidly, what’s popular one day might be old news the next. That’s another reason to consistently foster clear communication, boundaries, and expectations with your children over their social media use.