In the old days, kids challenged each other to swallow live goldfish.
Today’s teens have gone a few steps further, filming themselves trying these and other risky activities:
- Pass-out or choking challenge
- Cinnamon challenge (eating a spoonful of cinnamon without drinking water)
- Condom snorting challenge
- Ingesting alcohol in nontraditional ways, including vodka-soaked tampons, vodka eyeballing and alcohol enemas (teens call it “butt chugging”)
- Salt and ice challenge (pouring salt on wet skin and holding an ice cube over the area)
- Beezin’ (applying Burt’s Bees lip balm to the eyelids to intensify a high)
News stories have reported permanent brain damage, choking, tissue damage, blindness and death resulting from these challenges.
Dangerous teen trends are mind boggling to adults but don’t seem that risky to the youths who try them, said Dr. James Meyer, an adolescent medicine physician at Marshfield Clinic.
Dangerous decisions based in biology
There’s a scientific reason why some teens don’t say no to eating a spoonful of cinnamon even though logic tells adults it’s a bad idea.
The thrill seeking parts of the brain are more active in adolescents and the judgment and self-regulation part isn’t fully developed, Meyer said. Judgment is impaired when people are sleep deprived, as teens often are. Youths aren’t able to weigh pros and cons as well as adults and are more likely to do dangerous things.
Even if they see a situation is risky, teens often believe they won’t get hurt.
On top of all that, teens want to be accepted and remembered by peers, even if it’s for doing something negative or dangerous.
“Teens who have poor impulse control or self image are easily influenced by their peers and can get involved in a cycle of one-upping their friends by doing something more outrageous,” Meyer said.
Brainstorm what teens can do when a friend suggests trying a dangerous trend.
They can tell friends to go ahead without them (others questioning the decision usually follow) or they won’t be allowed to use the car if they get caught. Or they can suggest another trendy challenge that isn’t inherently dangerous, like water bottle flipping or Frisbee trick shots.
If your teen is a thrill seeker, suggest activities that can be done safely with instruction, like rock climbing, rappelling or snowboarding. Sports, theater or playing an instrument may satisfy your teen’s need for recognition from peers.
Talk to teens
Knowing your teen’s friends and asking about the videos they watch on social media may clue you in to whether dangerous trends are on their radar. Ask what they think of videos showing people trying risky stunts and share your own thoughts.
Talking to teens about your family values and their strengths and talents will improve their confidence to make good decisions.
Your children may not make it through their teenage years without trying anything risky, but continued communication may keep them from doing something extremely dangerous.