Even before cell phones and social media were pervasive (and before the internet existed), peer pressure was alive and well. Kids have always played truth or dare. Teens have always experimented with substances and activities, driven by a desire to fit in.
But today’s device-driven culture seems to have exacerbated peer pressure and, unfortunately, amped up the danger factor. Where past generations pushed the envelope by sneaking sips of beer or playing spin-the-bottle, social media has sparked a frenzy of new challenges and dares. Driven by the desire to gain likes, views, and followers, kids (primarily teens) are being encouraged to participate in increasingly dangerous and outrageous behaviors. Many are relenting. Sadly, some are suffering serious injuries and even dying.
New Peer Pressure Dares: Tide Pods, Blue Whales, and Cinnamon
One of the latest dares sweeping social media involves Tide Pods, of all things. The colorful laundry packets have long been a hazard to young children who, mistaking them for candy, have ingested them and become ill. Now, older kids are taking videos of themselves intentionally ingesting the pods. It’s a “game” known as the Tide Pod Challenge. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, as of mid-January 2018, at least 18 teens have become ill after intentionally ingesting Tide Pods.
Another online challenge sounds harmless on the surface but is also potentially deadly. The Cinnamon Challenge dares participants to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon in one minute without drinking any liquid to wash it down. The problem is, attempting to ingest a large quantity of cinnamon powder can lead to accidentally aspirating cinnamon into the lungs, which can be deadly. One mother in Kentucky has been an outspoken critic of the challenge, after her four-year-old suffocated from ingesting cinnamon.
One of the most dangerous online challenges sweeping social media is called the Blue Whale Challenge. This online “game” is believed to have originated in Russia. Essentially, participants are assigned a “curator” who instructs them to perform various increasingly uncomfortable or harmful acts over a 50-day period. In the beginning, the challenges may be relatively benign (waking up early or watching a horror film). As the game progresses, so does the risk. Participants may be dared to cut words or sayings into their skin. The last challenge is always the same: Win the game by committing suicide. Shockingly, more than 100 teen suicides are believed to be linked to this game.
The Cool Factor
What compels otherwise intelligent, responsible teens to participate in potentially dangerous online challenges? The desire for attention and validation or simply being curious about whether “it really works,” says one family therapist interviewed on the topic by NBC’s Today.com. Another therapist interviewed by Today noted that social media challenges reach the masses simultaneously, creating a buzz that encourages teens to get in on the action too.
What can parents do to protect their kids?
Knowledge is power! One of the most effective ways to safeguard your kids from potentially harmful social media challenges is to be in the know about what the latest trends are. Pay attention to the YouTube videos your kids are watching. Ask them about the Tide Pod or Cinnamon Challenge to begin a dialogue. Ask them if they know people who have participated in these or other games, and use that conversation as an opportunity to reiterate how dangerous they can be. Keep an eye out for unusual behavior, and don’t hesitate to ask questions!