#parent | #kids | Social media scavenger hunts are leading teenagers astray

Although the Covid-19 rules in Sydney limit public gatherings to groups of twenty, the ‘Shorenament’ rules specified that the boys were to operate in groups of five or six – and, according to UK students, these are the group sizes they were gravitating towards even before the ‘Rule of Six’ came into effect a few weeks ago.

“People are less suspicious of what you’re up to when you’re in a relatively small group,” says 15-year-old Arthur*. “The Rule of Six works fine for the scavenger hunts.”

Arthur attends a private school in London, where fees are in the region of £40,000 a year – and, like the students in Sydney, it seems that an elite education is no barrier to distasteful behaviour.

“If anything, the stakes are higher,” he says. “We, and other private schools, have nicer grounds – and long-standing rivalries.” He mentions urinating and defecating on sports pitches, ‘kidnapping’ and humiliating rival students, often using their school ties as a bind or gag. Shoplifting, buying alcohol and using drugs such as ‘ket’ (ketamine) and ‘nang’ (nitrous oxide) are also ‘point scorers.’

“We’re not able to have parties or sneak into clubs, or any of the things that we would usually be doing at this age,” says Alice. “I think the combination of the restrictions and the fact that we all use social media so much anyway… these challenges just give us a focus and an outlet. People in pubs play drinking games, don’t they? Well, for now, we’ve got this.”  

Advice for parents and carers

According to Nicholas Rose, it’s important that parents and children have frank conversations about access to technology. “There’s also a need for discussions with children about how to manage situations that they’re not entirely comfortable with; how to take a step back and give themselves a moment to think before hitting a literal or figurative button. These situations challenge boundaries and it’s important to know how to say ‘no’ and how to avoid acting under pressure.” 

He points also to the abusive element of being pressured to do something, and to do it quickly. “It’s important that young people feel comfortable and supported by the people they spend their time with – not under constant pressure,” he says. “Parents can encourage young people to see that when someone is pressuring you, it is not about you – it’s about them. That can be very hard, depending on the relationship with these other people, and how you regard them – but if they are pushing you to do something, then that means that there is something going on for them – and it’s okay for you to say ‘no.’” 

Equally, there are ways of encouraging youngsters to harness the power of social media and its ability to foster online interaction and competition for good, says Will Gardner. “Boredom can give rise to risk-taking behaviour, both online and offline – but there are many ways that it can be positive, too. For instance, thanks to technology, young people have endless opportunities for capturing images: we ran a film contest and had some extraordinary entries from young people. Social media also gives young people a voice, giving them opportunities to project their opinions and ideas.” 

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