There is no doubt that the teen brain is “wired” for risky behavior and researchers have the science to prove it!!  During the teen years, scientists have found that the brain expands in neurons during adolescence and then shrinks in adulthood.  During the expansion phase, teens are prone to try new experiences that may be considered too dangerous for an adult.  Involve peer pressure, social media and the temptation for risky behavior and you can have a recipe for disaster. In fact, researchers found that the peak of experimentation is around age 19 and generally decreases by the age of 24.

So there is no doubt that teen experimentation and risky behaviors are here to stay.  Therefore, it is important that school counselors are aware of the newest trends that may put students at risk or even six feet under.

Want to more about teen neuroscience from the experts?  Check out this video by Frontline called Inside the Teenage Brain.

My Top Five Trends for 2017

So what are the top trending risky behaviors for 2017 that school counselors need to know?  After combing social media, watching the news, and listening to the experts on teen behavior, here are my five top trends for this year.

Gray Death

Imagine a drug 10,000 times more potent than morphine!  In fact, if someone got a small amount on his or her body or clothes that person could potentially overdose.  This is the outcome of a powerful new drug that teens are taking called gray death.  What makes gray death so powerful and lethal?  The real power behind the drug is that the base of  the drug, heroin, is mixed with tranquilizers that are used to take down animals like elephants and other drugs like fentanyl (source: USA Today).

How does one identify the drug?  According to experts, the drug looks just like concrete because of its gray color and should be approached with extreme caution as it can be absorbed through the skin.  Unfortunately, gray death has been responsible for dozens of fatalities in several states including New York and North Carolina.

Gray Death  Source: CNN


Talk about an adrenaline rush!!  Think about standing in front of a moving object (i.e train, rhino, or busy highway) or leaning over an insanely tall skyscraper (like the tallest building in the world) to get that perfect selfie.  Well, this is what our youth are doing to take the concept of the selfie to the next level! This new trend is call the killfie and is making Instagram “light up”.  All trends have a beginning and this craze was popularized when a Russian model was photographed leaning backward from a skyscraper in Dubai.


This trend isn’t called the killfie for nothing!  Several deaths have been reported from all around the world from Russia (soldiers die from posing with a live grenade),  India (youth fell from a moving train), and Spain (participant was gored when he turned his back on a charging bull).

Source: WJLA News: Killfie


This is a disturbing trend where males (both gay and straight) are encouraging each other to secretly remove their condom during sexual intercourse.  The concept behind the removal…the right of a man to “spread his seed.”  The risks behind stealthing are multifaceted and include: STDs, HIV, AIDS, pregnancy, and emotional trauma. Experts view stealthing as sexual assault and plausible rape.  See more about the sex trend from CBS News.

Source: New York Post

Suicide Games

Have you heard of the Blue Whale Game?  Although not reported in the United States, the game is supposedly very popular in Russia and other European nations.  Again, all trends (even false trends) have a beginning and this game was reported to have appeared after a picture of Russian teen, Yulia Konstantinova (aged 15), was posted shortly before she jumped to her death. News agencies like USA Today and Common Sense Media have reported little evidence of the existence of a real game, but warn that other suicide games have popped up from this idea.

What is the Blue Whale Game?  Participants are given a series of commands over 50 days to perform in an online community.  These tasks include carving images in their arm, watching horror movies, waking up at different times, and the final goal: death.  Although Snopes has not confirmed actual suicides linked to the game, this is something for adults to really watch in teens.

 Synthetic marijuana

According to CNN, one in ten teens and young adults have used synthetic marijuana.  The Centers for Disease Control reported that students who use synthetic were more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, violence, and risky behaviors.  In addition to risky and violent behaviors, the health problems these young people are facing are pretty extreme.  Some medical issues include: seizure, damage to the heart, stroke, psychosis, aggression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and even death.   The lead researcher for this study believes schools should include synthetic marijuana in their prevention strategies.

Unfortunately, I can speak to experiencing the effects of synthetic marijuana in my own family.  A very close family member was staying with me during Spring Break.  Every morning before I left, I would go upstairs and check on my kids and my guest to make sure everyone was okay.  That particular morning I went to check on Jake (not his real name), but he was not there.  After searching the house and looking outside, there was no Jake!  In a panic, I finally discovered that a window was cracked in my dining room.  Frantically, I went back upstairs and woke my kids to have them start looking for Jake. We called his cell, we called his friends, and we were getting ready to call the police when I decided to go outside one more time. Out of the corner of my eye, there was a figure hiding in the bushes and then it ran behind the house.  By this time, I am really freaking out and I went back inside to call the police.  I started dialing the police when Jake appeared in the living room (he must have opened another window to get back in).  He totally looked a mess…his sneakers were muddy (on my carpet), his hair had grass in it, his face was fire engine red, and his eyes were big as saucers. Immediately, I began to interrogate the boy, but he was only able to answer in gibberish.  Okay, this kid has taken something, but I don’t know what! Instantly, I was concerned and noticed that he began to pace, get irritable and hostile.  Long story short…we found out that he had taken synthetic marijuana.  Sometime later, Jake was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and anxiety as a result of his use.

Want to see the effects of synthetic marijuana?  Check out this video.

Synthetic Cannabinoids

What Can School Counselors Do?

Common Sense Media has some suggestions for parents on how to help their teens, but I think these suggestions can be helpful to school educators as well.

1.  Educate students and parents about these trends and their dangers.  Not talking about them can open students to trying them out of curiosity.

2.  Challenge students to think about the risks of trying the behavior.  Problem solving with teens is very powerful!

3.  Talk to teens about the influence of social media and why the student wants to try the behavior after seeing it on in the internet.

4.  Keep abreast of new trends and how they may affect your students’ health, behavior, and academic performance.

5.  Promote responsible internet safety at school and home.  Check out tips from Common Sense Media on internet Safety.

Source: Common Sense Media

Have a trend you are concerned about in your school?  Please share!


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