The New “Dare” Culture: Social Media Challenges

The chances that your teen will be dared to do something risky is no longer limited to peer pressure at school and sleepovers. Any child with access to social media has likely already been exposed to stupid, gross, or dangerous dares that are trending online. Although they are called “social media challenges,” do not be fooled into thinking they are positive or cute contests such as the ice bucket challenge. Social media challenges have brought dares to a whole new level.

What is a social media challenge?

A social media challenge is simply a challenge, or a dare, made to the public on social media. The problem is that America’s youth have taken the concept too far by participating in some fairly dangerous risks and then posting the video online for all to see. Teens view these challenges as a way to ease their boredom and achieve respect from their friends and “likes” on their social media. Many of them also hope that their video will go “viral” so the risk involved keeps increasing as teens try to reach a bigger audience.

Here are some of the popular challenges kids have tried in the past or are trying now:

The Tide Pod Challenge. Teens are posting videos of themselves chewing Tide Pods and then challenge friends to see who will do it and how far they’ll go before spitting it out. The risks of ingesting detergent are vomiting, throat burns, eye injuries, and even death.

The Deodorant Challenge. A teen holds an aerosol deodorant can as close to their skin as possible and sprays it for a prolonged period of time causing first- to second-degree burns.

The Eraser Challenge. Youth take an eraser and rub it on their hands or forearms as hard as they can for 30 seconds, which causes a painful welt and can break the skin.

The Real Food Challenge. There are several versions of this challenge, but basically there are two teens who sit in front of two covered dishes. The teens have to eat whatever is unveiled – one of the dishes is always “real food” and the other contains something gross, such as dog food or insects.

The Cinnamon Challenge. Teens are dared to swallow a teaspoon of cinnamon, which causes coughing, choking, and burning eyes.

The Salt and Ice Challenge. The youth puts salt on their skin and holds an ice cube on top, usually for a specific amount of time or in competition with someone else. The salt causes the ice to drop in temperature to nearly -30 degrees Celsius, which causes second- to third-degree burns on their skin.

The Choking Game. Teens use limited strangulation to reduce oxygen to the brain, causing the participant to faint.

The Fire Challenge. The youth douses himself with a flammable liquid like rubbing alcohol, then lights himself on fire before jumping into a shower or pool.

The Duct Tape Challenge. Teens duct-tape the participant to a pole, and the participant must try to break free.

Car Surfing. A passenger stands on the roof, hood, or bumper of a moving vehicle.

The 48 Hour Challenge. Teens are encouraged to go missing for 48-hours. Teens earn points the longer they can stay hidden without their parents knowing where they are. Success is measured by the number of social media mentions or pleas from worried parents that are posted, whether the police are informed and the scale of searches in order to try and find them.

Why do teens like these dares?

Experts believe teens are driven to these types of behaviors for a few reasons:

  1. The frontal lobe of the brain where decision-making and logic operate is underdeveloped in adolescents, which means that they do not think rationally, consider logical consequences, or control impulsive behavior very well.
  2. Adolescent brains are loaded with dopamine which causes teens to seek out reward. Most teens seek attention and acceptance, so when they receive shares and “likes” on their social media, they feel rewarded.
  3. Their brains are programmed to seek out new experiences and risks to encourage learning. Unfortunately, sometimes these risks are dangerous.


How do I prevent my teen from doing one of these challenges?

Your best bet to prevent your teen from engaging in one or more of these challenges is having open and honest communication about the new dare culture in media. Here are some tips:

Do not judge. As a parent, your ultimate goal is to make sure your teen feels safe coming to you and asking about things. To create this type of environment, you must be willing to engage in open, honest communication that does not put your child down. Even if you disapprove of the challenge, simply provide the facts around the act rather than offering your opinion on the stupidity of the act.

Help your teen assess risk. Since their brains are not fully developed, your teen has not thought through all of the consequences so explain the risk of these challenges. Make sure you focus on both the immediate and long-term risks, since teens tend to care more about the present and feel invincible. Immediate risks could include pain or rejection by peers. And, when discussing the long-term consequences, don’t forget to mention that what is uploaded to the Internet never truly leaves. Their potential college choice, a future employer, or even a romantic partner can find their video years from now.  This process of assessing risk will actually teach your teen problem-solving skills that will help them in the future.

Help your teen assess popularity. Popularity, acceptance, and fame are the driving motivators behind these challenges. Remind your teen that not “everyone is doing it” and that the “wow factor” people might have doesn’t mean they are impressed in a positive way. Shock does not equal approval. Finally, help them consider their own reputation – how do they want to be viewed by their peers?

Offer your teen positive risks. Adolescents are risk-takers. Instead of working against this natural aspect of youth, parents can provide teens the opportunity to take risks that are positive. Fun activities, such as ziplines or roller coasters, and challenges, such as starting a club at school or trying a new sport, can also satisfy a teen’s inner dare devil.

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