Adolescence is society’s permission slip for combining physical maturity with psychological irresponsibility.
The goal of this blog is twofold. The first is to communicate the amazing things happening in our district, and the second is to offer observations and supports that will help our families flourish.
You can file this particular blog post in the second category, as it outlines one of the ways digital influences are impacting our kids. In the days before YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram, we played Truth or Dare. This (mostly) harmless game was a way for us to feel closer to a small group of friends, boost our egos, and in some cases, make us legendary. Some of the dares that I can remember completing included ringing doorbells and running away or eating an entire catsup packet. In the end, these games didn’t have a meaningful impact on our health or emotional well-being.
Fast forward to a world of internet “challenges,” and the narrative is very different. This is our kids’ version of truth or dare. The goal of these challenges is to not only boost your bravado, but to ensure the widest audience possible. Combine these goals with the impulsivity of the adolescent brain, and we find these challenges have become more and more dangerous for our children.
If we trace the origins of the internet challenge, I am sure we all remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge from 2012. This is an example of a admirable idea, for a great cause, that over time has morphed into something dangerous. There is a huge difference between dumping a cold bucket of water over your head for a good cause and causing permanent scarring via the salt/ice challenge.
As caring parents, we want to give our kids autonomy and not “over parent” but, just as it was when they were babies, it is our job to say “don’t put that in your mouth.” Below you will find a few of the most popular internet challenges and some of the risks associated with them.
- The Cinnamon Challenge: This challenge requires kids to swallow a spoonful of cinnamon without drinking water in less than a minute which often causes the participant to cough up an orange cloud upon failure of the challenge. Cinnamon is caustic, and trying to gulp it down can cause choking, throat irritation, breathing trouble and even collapsed lungs. Research suggests that when cinnamon gets into the lungs, it can cause scarring.
- Salt and Ice Challenge: This challenge is performed by sprinkling salt on a specific area of the body and placing ice cubes on top. The challenge — “designed” to test pain tolerance — creates a burning sensation due to the chemical reaction of the salt with water on the skin. As a result, the skin is susceptible to serious burns and frostbite-like reactions. There have also been reports of participants suffering from second degree burns.
- Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge: Participants put their lips inside small glasses or bottle openings and suck in, increasing blood flow and swelling the lips. Doctors warned that taking on the daring phenomenon could cause bruising, scarring, and permanent disfigurement.
- The Pass-Out Challenge: The pass-out challenge is one of the riskiest ones out there. YouTube videos show kids hyperventilating for around 20 seconds, or until they feel lightheaded. Then, they either hold their breath or have friends hold them up against a wall by their neck. The lack of blood flow will quickly lead to unconsciousness. Really short term, even just doing this once, could lead to hypoxic seizures. Seizures can also cause significant trauma, depending on where the participant falls and his or her surroundings.
- The Tide Pod Challenge: Most popular as of late is the Tide Pod Challenge, in which one is challenged to eat a pod of laundry detergent. Immediately, this can cause vomiting, lethargy, gasping, and esophageal burns. If inhaled, these effects can be even greater. The chemicals in the detergent pods can depress the central nervous system, so in addition to respiratory and GI discomfort, the more serious risks include seizures, comas, or brain death. Chemical burns could mean a permanent feeding tube or loss of taste. It is important to note that the younger and smaller the child is, the greater the toxicity.
As rational adults we can see how participation in even one of these challenges can be harmful to our children. As we strive to keep our kids safe, the most important thing we can do is communicate with our kids that we are aware of these challenges and the safety risks they pose. Additionally, we need to work to monitor our children’s online activity as best we can. If you see something disturbing, you need to discuss it with your child. If the challenge is really something that can be done for fun, the whole family should be able to do it. If it’s not fun or doable for the whole family, or if the child feels like he/she has to hide it, then he/she probably shouldn’t be doing it. If you suspect your child may be engaging in these challenges, you may have to play the role of “bad cop.” That may mean checking your child’s phone, computer, or tablet browser history or social networks sites for confirmation. While we want to give our kids privacy, we need to make sure that safety comes first.