As I was driving home from work the other day, I heard a disturbing news story on the radio that instantly grabbed my attention.
A new and life-threatening social-media trend has gone viral among teens.
It’s called the “fire challenge.”
In short, teens are daring one another to use flammable liquids to set themselves on fire, quickly douse the flames and then post a video of the entire incident on YouTube or Facebook.
As this story reports, the trend has become so popular that it has resulted in tens of thousands of horrifying “fire challenge” videos appearing online—in addition to emergency room visits across the country. In the last few weeks, several children, one as young as 11-years-old, have experienced serious burns from engaging in this “challenge.”
One of the latest sufferers was a 12-year-old girl.
“We’re just asking parents and even other teenagers to sit down with each other and talk about what the real consequences are,” said a local fire-prevention expert.
As I listened to the story on my car radio, I felt horrified by the self-destructive trends that seem to be gripping so many teens in this nation and began to pray for the hearts and souls of our children.
Then another question entered my mind:
Do we live in denial as a society when it comes to other cultural messages we promote to teens? Perhaps these messages are more subtle and less overt, but do they, in effect, amount to another kind of “fire challenge” that is irresponsible, and extremely dangerous?
Through pop culture, televisions shows and movies—and yes, even taxpayer-funded classroom lessons and reading assignments—it seems our teens are being inundated with messages that encourage them to engage in sexual experimentation at young ages. All too often, the idea communicated to our kids is that sexual experimentation of all kinds—even those that delve into “Shades of Grey” areas—are a normal part of growing up and even worthy of celebration.
News stories and studies have trumpeted the fact that students are also experimenting with their sexual identity (including “gay, lesbian and bisexual”), and are “coming out” at younger and younger ages. It stands to reason that “coming out” at younger ages could also involve sexual behavior that is extremely risky.
But just as most of the “fire challenge” videos depict the momentary thrill of a dare while failing to show the long-term, painful consequences—many of our most popular, glamorized cultural messages promote sexual experimentation outside of marriage, while neglecting to disclose to teens very real risks and long-term costs involved.
It’s well-documented that the earlier the age of sexual activity, the greater the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and experiencing emotional harm, both of which can have lifelong impact.
Just as the fire-prevention expert in the “fire challenge” news story issued a call to action to discuss the “real consequences,” it seems to me, that we should feel just as much urgency—and compassion— in the need to have up-front conversations with our youth about the often devastating reality behind the false depictions of cost-free, no-strings-attached sexual activity.
So where does all this leave parents? How can they safeguard their children — and prepare them to withstand the cultural peer pressure and “challenges” that no one is directly addressing—but have the potential to seriously threaten their health, minds and hearts?
That’s where I believe Focus on the Family’s “Empowering Parents” resources—provided for free through our Truetolerance.org initiative— can help. These resources include:
- A free, downloadable guide providing parents with easy-to-use tools and tips that equip them to be proactive in talking to their children about God’s design for sexuality and gender—in addition to helping them navigate difficult situations that may arise in their child’s school.
- A checklist that walks parents through basic ways to research what’s happening in your local schools, as well as tips on how to approach school officials if you see content that concerns you.
The bottom line is, we want parents and families to know they are not alone when it comes to safeguarding their children’s innocence and seeking to raise godly children with biblical values and Christ’s compassion. Be sure to check out these resources and share them with your friends and family members.
Candi Cushman is Focus on the Family’s Education analyst. In addition to tracking national issues such as the Common Core standards, home school freedoms and parental rights, she facilitates two nationwide initiatives: TrueTolerance.org for parents and DayofDialogue.com for students.