First there was the “eraser challenge,” then the “salt and ice challenge” – now parents are being warned of another self-harming craze that’s gaining momentum in schools: “the deodorant challenge.”
The challenge involves holding up a can of aerosol deodorant to one area of the body within close proximity of the skin and spraying for as long as possible. And much like its predecessors, the challenge results in burn marks to the sprayed areas that may cause permanent damage.
The warning comes from U.K. mother Sara Stanley after she found out her 12-year-old daughter Kaitlyn Stanley had engaged in the challenge which left her with multiple burn marks to her arms.
“My friends started doing it,” Kaitlyn explained during her recent appearance with her mother on the U.K. talk show This Morning. “You spray it and then it goes white and it looks, like, really cool.”
When asked by one of the hosts if she realized she was damaging her, Kaitlyn replied “no.”
The host then asked if she was worried that she could have potentially damaged her skin for life, she nodded “yes.”
She said she’s also not sure what she thinks of her arm now that it’s covered in the burns.
Many took to social media to voice their concerns.
“In our day it used to be chicken scratches,” wrote Alanah Hunt, “Don’t get why kids do it. What goes through their heads is beyond me.”
“My son did this last year!” Beth Hill said. “These stupid crazes do the rounds then disappear for a while then come back. It’s such a stupid thing to do.”
This isn’t the first time kids have done the deodorant challenge.
Videos of kids engaging in the challenge have been uploaded to YouTube as far back as five years ago as well as news reports in 2009 – but the challenge is once again gaining in popularity.
According to parenting expert Ann Douglas, these self-harming challenges appeal to teens for a few reasons.
“The teen brain is really primed for peer approval, even peer approval that involves making some risky choices and this is just a classic example of that,” Douglas says. “It is also primed for adventure and thrill-seeking. The part of the brain that encourages the careful weighing of consequences and sober reflection – that part doesn’t fully come on stream until the mid-20s. So this is a case of young adolescents acting their age.”
But it’s important not to dismiss such behaviour, Douglas says. The best thing parents can do is to take a proactive approach with their children and have a conversation on the topic sooner rather than later.
“These kinds of bad ideas spread like wildfire, especially now in the age of social media,” Douglas says. “Parents need to talk to their kids about peer pressure from when they’re young kids until the end of time because we all deal with it even as adults. Talk to them about how it feels and what they can do to handle it – what are some practical things they can do in the moment when they’re feeling pressure to do something that their gut instinct is saying may not be the smartest or wisest thing.”
However, when having these types of discussions, Douglas suggests parents should avoid sounding “preachy” or like they’re talking down to their kids. You’ll instead want to bring the subject up in a calm, casual conversation.
“This tends to backfire,” Douglas says. “So instead of heeding your advice, your teen is more likely to see this risky challenge as an opportunity to assert their independence and rebel against you.”
Aside from seeing visible burns, it may not always be easy for parents to know if their child is experimenting with these challenges.
“Look obviously for any unusual marks that might indicate that your child is doing something risky,” Douglas says. “Also pay attention to when your child has friends over. Are you noticing any strange burn marks on any of their friends? Because if it’s happening in her peer group then it’s more likely to be a concern.”
Also pay attention to any changes in the child’s behaviour.
“Just be the kind of parent that kids can talk to about anything because if they know you can handle it and you won’t overreact, then they’re more likely to open up,” Douglas says.