April 10, 2018

Online dares: Parent tips for talking to youth about risk, choices

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Risk taking is a part of adolescence, and parents need to find a way to talk to youth about possible dangers, ethics and safety, says a Purdue University child development expert.

“Thanks to social media and YouTube, there is a larger source of ideas and a larger audience now than used to not be there for dares and stunts,” says Judith Myers-Walls, professor emeritus of child development who has developed “Do You Dare?” activities to help parents and children talk about taking risks. “We need to remember that there is an age at which kids should take risks and it is developmentally normal. After all, if they don’t learn to take risks, they won’t get a job, start a long-term relationship, or leave home. Trying new things is a part of growing up, like trying a new sport or asking someone out. It is normal to test their bravery, but parents need to talk to their children openly about safety and doing the right things.”

The recent trend of dares continues to become more extreme, and that is not likely going away, as it is similar to what is known as the escalation effect.

“Just like in the sequel to a movie, the body count increases and the special effects need to be bigger. The next one is always about something more extreme,” Myers-Walls says.

Taking on dares is often about peer pressure and fitting in, and parents can help their children with teaching some refusal skills.

“Adolescents are looking for guidance to stay reasonably safe but help them not look like a wimp or lose face in front of their friends,” she says.

Here are four strategies to teach children that they could use with their friends in person or online:

* Allow youth to use their parents as the scapegoat. They could say, “If I don’t die doing that, my parents would kill me.” Or, “You know my parents. I can’t do that.”

* Use humor. “You know me, I would make too big a fool of myself,” or “You know that is a guarantee that I would break something.”

* Change the subject. Send the discussion a different direction.

* Get serious. “We could get arrested” or “That is really dangerous.” Sometimes it just takes one to speak up. Youth need to know it is OK to bring in someone who can intervene before someone gets really hurt. Teach kids to provide a link to a source of help if someone is really in danger.

During this time of growing awareness of brain development, we have learned that adolescent brains are not done growing. Youth are still learning to think things through while the emotional part of their brains matures. Coach them to take a deep breath and count to five before acting as a way to stop and think before they jump into a dare.

There can be some natural family tensions at this time, too. While youth are at this stage of trying new things and taking some risks, their parents are often middle aged, and naturally becoming more cautious.

“It seems like a mismatch, but it is a normal and creative mismatch. It can be good for both generations. While adults can help adolescents add a little caution to their risk taking, adolescents can help their parents’ add a little risk to their caution and encourage them to try new things, too,” Myers-Walls says.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Judith Myers-Walls, jmyerswa@purdue.edu

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