Most parents and educators are cautious and suspicious about kids using social media, and for good reason.
We worry about how extended time online will impact their brain development. We’re anxious about how a hyper-polished appearance can lead a kid to a negative self-image. We fear cyberbullying, exposure to harmful images or videos, and creepy people taking advantage of them.
But, did you know that social media is also a primary vehicle for tempting kids to experiment with substances?
Here are 3 things you need to know:
1. Influencers often portray substance use as a healthy and vibrant choice. There are reports that one of the most well-known vaping brands, Juul, was marketing directly to kids, and they got busted for it. Celebrity social media influencers that kids follow were being paid behind the scenes to use their products in their posts. It’s also common for vaping companies to pay for ads designed to target minors.
2. Social media is now the primary marketplace for teens’ access to drugs. Drug dealers no longer have to stand on shady street corners. They can now connect with kids online through social media platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. Buying drugs is as easy as posting a series of specific emojis on social media to signal your interest in a sale.
3. There have been recent reports of social media trends called “challenges,” where kids are encouraged to post photos or videos of themselves consuming harmful substances, seemingly all in good, harmless fun. But, it’s been deadly. In 2020, there was a now infamous “Benadryl Challenge,” where kids were dared to take as many as 6x of the recommended adult dosage so that they would hallucinate and act inebriated. Kids died, and even the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson made public declarations to avoid the challenge.
Parental monitoring is essential to keep kids safe on social media, especially through parental controls and being aware of the trends.
For educators, there is a keen and unique opportunity to educate kids. As they pull away from their parents, teachers and other educators have potential access to educate and facilitate thoughtful discussions about the dangers of social media. Knowledge is, in fact, power, and we can solve the knowledge problem with deliberate intervention.
Social media can be used for good. But its inherent risks to kids on several levels should make every adult cringe with anxiety and be propelled to intervene.