The “hot water challenge” is the latest online dare to lead to serious harm — an 11-year-old girl from the Bronx was severely burned this week after friends reportedly poured boiling hot water on her after seeing similar videos on YouTube.
How can parents protect kids from such dares? Other online challenges have included the cinnamon challenge, in which kids try to eat a spoonful of cinnamon powder, and the blue whale challenge, which goads kids into committing suicide.
“Thing happen so fast, it’s hard to keep up,” says Katie Duffy Schumacher of Rockville Centre, author of “Don’t Press Send: A Mindful Approach to Social Media; An Education in Cyber Civics.” So she suggests parents talk to their kids about online challenges in general.
“We have all given our children devices way too young. They can’t manage it,” Schumacher says. That, combined with a societal culture of “monkey see, monkey do” in which kids imitate each other for peer validation, has caused situations such as this one, she says.
Marc Shulman, a psychologist in private practice in Garden City and Lawrence who has blogged about social media issues at lipsychologist.com, says social media gives tweens the impression that such behavior is “cool” instead of extremely dangerous and potentially lethal.
“They think if it’s on social media, that means it’s acceptable and normal behavior,” Shulman says. “What happened with these children is a perfect example of that.”
Parents need to talk to their kids repeatedly about the dangers of social media; it’s not just a one-time talk, he says.
Schumacher echoes him. “What we need to talk about to kids is to really think before you act, and what the consequences are going to be,” Schumacher says. Parents need to stress empathy, she says.
Kids should learn to use social media for good — such as the ice bucket challenge that raised millions to combat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS, Schumacher says.