With a good month or two under the new school year belt, students are (hopefully) deep into the learning process. We parents should be educating ourselves, too.
Every school year brings dangerous trends — both new and reinvented — that you may be clueless about but that your middle schooler/high schooler is hearing about, considering or doing with classmates and friends. While not every teen’s brain struggles with impulsivity, many do, and even the most mature teenager is likely to take risks and be vulnerable to peer pressure.
So, parents, here are four fads to take note of:
1. The Fire Challenge. While we were preoccupied with the Ice Bucket Challenge over the summer, teens were taking the “fire challenge,” dousing themselves in flammable liquids, lighting it and — in theory —extinguishing it before being seriously injured, while recording the act and then sharing the video on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Yes, our kids are recording themselves being engulfed in flames, flailing and screaming in pain.
There are thousands of the videos circulating and injuries have included severe burns and hospitalization. Officials around the country, along with the American Burn Association, are asking parents to warn about the game. And even if you believe your teen would never actually try it — or says, "that was last summer" — at least persuade him or her not to share the videos with friends.
2. Spice, aka synthetic pot. Also called “Scooby snacks,” “K2,” or any of half a dozen other names, teens might consider this an “alternative” to pot, but it’s dangerously more potent. Experts refer to it as “synthetic cannabinoids” and say Spice could be any one of dozens of chemical compounds, many manufactured in secret Chinese, Eastern European or American labs. One study refers to it as “a mixture of herbs, often resembling lawn clippings, that have been sprayed or soaked with a solution of designer chemicals.”
There has been an explosion of ER visits related to Spice use over the past few years. One southern California family lost their 19-year-old son after he took just one hit of Spice. So if you hear your kids talking about it, know that despite the name, the only thing that is being cooked here is your teen’s brain.
3. Dirty Sprite. When you hear a reference to “Dirty Sprite,” the kids are not talking about the Sprite can that fell into the mud. It’s the latest teen party drink, also called “Drank” or “Lean,” which is a combination of Sprite, candy (usually Jolly Ranchers) and prescription drugs or codeine cough syrup. There are You Tube videos of teens showing how to concoct it, and even pricey sweatshirts that illustrate the recipe.
Experts warn that Dirty Sprite can be addictive and tell parents that it’s best to keep prescription meds locked up, as well as discarding ones that have expired. (Don’t forget the “Skittles” or “Pharm” parties trend of a couple of years ago, where kids fill a plastic bag with prescription drugs they take from their parents’ medicine cabinets to share with partygoers.)
And talking to kids about the risks of prescription drug abuse does make a difference. Children who learn a lot about the risks of drugs are up to 50 percent less likely to use them, according to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.
4. Texting and walking or driving: There’s always a new batch of teen drivers hitting the roads each school year. It’s cause enough to keep repeating the dangers of texting and driving. A recent study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health found that among teens, 25 percent reported responding to a text message at least once every time they drive, and 20 percent admitted to holding multimessage conversations.
Celebrities like Demi Lovato have endorsed campaigns such as AT&T’s “It Can Wait” pledge to not text and drive. And there are plenty of videos that can show teens the deadly outcomes of texting and driving. But perhaps the best type of parental influence is to just be a good role model. Because, sadly, parents are the biggest offenders. It's not just driving, either. Pedestrian injuries among 16 to 19-year olds have been increasing and the death rate among older teens is at least twice that of younger kids, according to SafeKids. It's unclear how many of those are because of mobile devices, but it's worth reminding your teen, "eyes up while walking."
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