With each successive generation, immersion in the electronic world seems to occur at a younger age. Unfortunately, the maturity that is necessary to cope with potential negative fallout from this e-world tends to not happen at the same accelerated rate. Adolescents who are just beginning to navigate puberty and participate in the more intense social interaction of middle (or high) school are also now required to hazard the treacherous waters of the internet, on-line gaming and numerous social media platforms. In an era where one has mere seconds to make a lasting impression, viral challenges and dares up the ante for teenagers who are looking to stand out from the crowd.
Unfortunately, this desire to distinguish oneself from friends often coincides with a period in life when the brain is developing at a rapid pace. The teenage years are generally fraught with impulsive behavior, poor decision-making and heightened emotional reactivity. It is a transitional period of cognitive development, during which portions of the brain that control thoughtful consideration are in the lengthy process of becoming mature. These disparate situations can lead to risk-taking without proper acknowledgment of consequences. During this tender period, there is increased incidence of unintentional injuries, violence, substance abuse and pregnancy. So it follows, in this web-centric age that Internet dares, games and challenges might be attractive to young people who wish to have a moment in the spotlight – but who lack a full understanding of the negative physical or mental repercussions that could play out.
Each year many serious injuries and deaths occur because a young person attempted something dangerous that he/she saw on the Web. Sadly, many parents report that they had never even heard of the life-threatening activity until their child was dead. It is important to stay aware of these “games” and talk openly with your child about the inherent dangers they may present – even if he/she “isn’t the type to engage in them.”
Here are some of the more recent dares, games and challenges to make it into the news:
The 48-Hour Challenge encourages children to go “missing,” for an extended period of time and awards points for social media posts pleading for information and their safe return.
The Kylie Lip Challenge instructs young girls to place a shot glass onto the lips and create a suction that draws blood into them, which causes a plumping effect. Doctors warn of the glasses breaking under pressure and causing cuts and broken blood vessels as a result of engorgement.
The Eyeball Challenge or eyeballing, involves taking a shot of hard liquor directly into the eye. This can cause severe irritation, swelling, corneal abrasion, scarring and even blindness.
The Salt and Ice Challenge encourages players to see who can hold a combination of the two substances for the longest amount of time. This is physically painful because the salt causes the freezing point of the ice to drop as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit. Second and third degree burns can result.
The Choking Game requires cutting off oxygen to achieve a brief moment of euphoria before passing out. This is one of the more dangerous viral pursuits, and has resulted in several deaths. The CDC recently conducted a study of choking game deaths, which revealed that most kids started by playing this “game” with others, but that ninety-six percent of deaths occurred when the child was alone. Short of death, this activity can also cause severe brain damage. Signs of participating in this “game” may include unexplained bruising around the neck, frequent headaches and bloodshot eyes.
Perhaps most disturbing is the Blue Whale Challenge. Popular in certain parts of the world, this “challenge” is overseen by an “administrator” or “master” whom assigns a series of self-destructive and self-mutilating actions that culminate in committing suicide. Several deaths have been reported.
Risk-taking is normal teen behavior and (evolutionarily speaking) it has benefitted humankind. Uncontrolled impulsive actions encouraged individuals to separate from the family, gain independence and foster adjustment and development of survival skills.
The collective consciousness of teenagers is bombarded every second of every day with some new Internet sensation or viral phenomenon. These range from the harmless to the deadly and can enlist participants who may be bored, vulnerable to peer pressure or are simply looking for acceptance. That being said, intelligence is not a limiting factor; adolescents can exhibit adult levels of intellectual capability earlier than they show adult levels of impulse control. Eating hot peppers, and spoonfuls of cinnamon or drinking excessive amounts of water to fulfill a dare may seem harmless, but can have serious (and sometimes deadly) effects.
By the eighth grade, twenty percent of American kids have intentionally inhaled common household products such as noxious glue fumes and compressed air, which contain very harmful ingredients. Staying knowledgeable about current viral phenomenons and talking to your child about them is a critical step in avoiding disastrous outcomes. Warn your child as soon as you hear about them so he/she is educated about the risks that are associated with the activity. Discovering the reason your child is motivated to take part is also important. Is it a desire for attention? Is it fear of missing out? Is it because of peer pressure? Is it indicative of a deeper problem that may benefit from professional attention?
The near constant exposure to social media combined with an underdeveloped ability to reason and control impulses can be a lethal combination. All too often, we as adults, only become aware of these dangerous practices when a child ends up in the hospital or dies. Make sure to keep the lines of communication open regarding viral dares, challenges and games.