Dangerous Social Media Challenges

Ever had that moment where you want to ask your teen, “What were you thinking?!?”

As teens take the journey of becoming independent adults, exploring their limits and abilities is part of developing their identities. Risk-taking is an important way for teenagers to learn about themselves, and it’s a normal rite of passage. Some reasons that teens take risks include:

  • The part of the brain responsible for impulse control does not fully mature until about age 25.
  • Teens tend to think that negative outcomes will only happen to other people.
  • There are some teenagers that love the ‘rush’ of adventure and seek out new and exciting experiences.
  • Teens want to be accepted and fit in. Research shows that risk-taking among teens doubles when peers are around.
  • Movies and television portray a wide range of risky behaviors in ways that make the person glamorous or admirable, while still avoiding any negative consequences.
  • As part of growing up, many teens try to define who they are by going against the established order of things.

When you combine a teen’s normal propensity to take risks with social media use, there is potential for problems. Social media use peaks in adolescence, just when risk-taking behavior starts. The majority of teens are online every day and most have at least one social media account, so they are exposed to a great deal of online peer pressure. Many teens also want to create “viral” videos to become famous. As a result, “challenges” or social media dares are very appealing to youth.

Examples of Recent Social Media Dares

We have listed a couple of recent social media dares below that are dangerous. The key thing to know is that new social media challenges pop up all the time, and it’s important that you take the time to find out what is trending so that you can let your teens know about the risks before they try something stupid.

Benadryl Challenge. A recent trend of TikTok videos encourage viewers to take excessive amounts of the common allergy medicine diphenhydramine, aka Benadryl, to get high and hallucinate. While it’s true that taking too much Benadryl may cause hallucinations, it can also cause seizures, high heart rate, and can trigger arrhythmias. Several youth were hospitalized due to overdose after attempting this challenge.

Outlet Challenge. Another TikTok challenge dares people to put phone chargers halfway into outlets and then drop coins onto the exposed prongs in order to create sparks. This challenge risks electrocution, power outages and electrical fires.

Ice Cream Challenge. In this dare, people are told to go to a grocery store, open a tub of ice cream, lick it and put it back on the freezer shelf. While some might think this is a harmless prank, this actually counts as food tampering, which is a felony charge in the U.S. (Not to mention that it’s disgusting and is a horrible idea during a pandemic.)

What Parents Can Do

Knowing that teenage risk-taking is normal doesn’t make it any easier to live with, but you don’t have to sit back and watch it happen with dread. Parents can take steps to channel their teen’s risky behavior into something positive and reduce the chances of serious consequences. Here are some strategies to help address and reduce risky behavior:

Discuss the danger of social media challenges. Stay up to date on what the latest social media challenges are and discuss them with your teen. Try to start an open conversation where you ask your teen what they think about the dare, rather than just start lecturing about why it’s a bad idea. Let your teen know how and why something could go wrong with the dare.

Encourage healthy risks. Try to guide your teen’s risk-taking tendencies towards more appropriate activities. There are plenty of safe and constructive risks that might satisfy your teen’s need for thrills without veering into dangerous territory. For some teens, simply trying new things or meeting new people can be a risk, while others might like an adrenaline-charged sport to get their thrill. Talk to your teen and suggest ideas, such as trying a new trick at the skate park, learning how to play a new instrument, expressing an unpopular opinion in class, taking up rock-climbing or another adventurous sport, or trying out for the school play.

Teach risk assessment. Use real life examples to explain other’s behaviors and consequences. Perhaps your neighbor lost his license because he drove drunk. You can discuss how he not only lost his license, but he won’t be able to keep his job since he can’t drive there, and the DUI will be on his record for any future employers to see. Teach your teen to evaluate real consequences to risky behaviors.

Teach life skills. Parents should work to instill positive character and life skills in their children. Discuss what makes a good leader, how to solve problems, and tips to be assertive. Teens armed with these qualities will develop a sense of responsibility and be more likely to make positive decisions.

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