Recently I found myself talking to some moms about the Tide Pod Challenge. If you haven’t heard of it, a simple google search will bring you to stories of American teenagers eating laundry detergent pods and posting their antics on social media for approval from their peers.
This is no different than the last decade’s fads – car surfing, snorting smarties, soaking tampons in alcohol, pharm parties (bringing pills from parents’ medicine cabinets), twilight-inspired ‘biting’ (sharing blood?!), drinking hand sanitizer…
I know. It’s mind-boggling.
I’m not here to further sensationalize these fads. And I don’t think every teen is at risk for these behaviors. But I’m tired of hearing the typical responses from parents.
There’s a much bigger issue ALL parents need to recognize that never gets discussed when the next fad hits the college campus.
The public response to these fads is usually to call the teenagers “stupid”, assume their own child would “never do something so absolutely idiotic” and then blame the fad on social media or their friends, the media, the college, or the companies who sell the products. Because who in their right mind would actually do something so risky and downright dumb?
Answer: They’re not dumb. They’re not from bad families.
They’re average kids who are seeking connection and purpose.
These kids are desperately looking for a place to belong. They want to be noticed not simply for attention, but for a bond to others that will satisfy their needs for a social network where they feel valued.
My work as a parent educator has always been based around the truth that the people with the best mental health are those with the highest social interest. Social interest is defined by the contributions you make to your social network.
Saying it as plainly as possible: the first opportunity for your children to develop a social network is at home.
Your family and immediate community is the first social network in your child’s life and if they don’t feel connected as a contributing member, they’ll search for their social network elsewhere.
Until parents begin to look at themselves in the mirror and take responsibility for their kids’ self-esteem by creating environments at home to cultivate your child’s sense of purpose, we’ll continue to hear parents say, “I just didn’t see it coming” when they hear their child engaged in downright dangerous behavior.
Please stop blaming social media and technology. Your kids are going to be bombarded by fads, temptations, and peer-pressure and placing a lock on your child’s screen isn’t going to prevent them from searching for the next way to feel accepted and connected.
Instead, ask yourself:
- What are you doing as a parent to ensure your child feels connected, capable and like a contributing member of your family?
- How are you interacting with your child to enforce the idea they belong, they are important and they are accepted – exactly as they are today?
- How are you supporting the development of essential skill sets so they feel competent and comfortable contributing to the success of their family?
- How are you ensuring they feel valued, listened to and appreciated for their perspectives, opinions, and preferences?
When your kids enter teenhood, you want your teens to feel so good about themselves that the idea of eating laundry detergent (or any other dangerous temptation) isn’t even in their wheelhouse.
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