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Experts warn parents of dangerous YouTube video challenges

By Paul Nelson | Posted - Apr 30th, 2013 @ 8:10am



SALT LAKE CITY — Parents need to do a better job keeping tabs on what their kids see on YouTube, counselors say, especially with dangerous and risky challenges flooding the channels.

However, some challenges may seem harmless are silly, so it may be difficult to convince teens not to take on these challenges.

There's the "cinnamon challenge," in which people try to eat ground cinnamon in a short amount of time without water. The challenge can leave a person gasping for air and water, and can even lead to sudden health issues, like a collapsed lung.

The journal Pediatrics calls the cinnamon challenge "practically impossible, decidedly unpleasant, and potential harmful."

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Calls to poison control centers have jumped since the popularity of the challenge has risen. The journal states in the first six months of 2012, the U.S. American Association of Poison Control Centers received 178 calls related to cinnamon exposure and the challenge. That number is drastically higher than the 51 calls the center received for the same reason, but for the entirety of 2011.

Then, there is the "salt and ice challenge," in which people put salt on their skin then hold an ice cube over it for as long as they can withstand the pain. This has caused some people to severely burn themselves.

Neither of these challenges can be considered smart or intelligent things to do. Yet, thousands of videos have been posted online showing people, young and old, participating in them.

"Most parents are (probably) a. unaware of this cinnamon challenge going on and b. haven't sat down with their adolescent and talked to them about it," said Douglas Goldsmith, executive director of The Children's Center.

Smith said parents can talk about the dangers of these challenges with their teens until they're blue in the face, but it might not help as much as parents expect. The adolescent brain has neurological functions that lead to certain behavioral patterns. One of these things is called "personal fable."


(Parents should say), 'If I hear that you're going to parties and you're getting involved in these games, I'll take your cell phone away for a period of time and you won't have access to your friends and you're not going to go to parties.' That becomes very real.

–Douglas Goldsmith


"The ‘personal fable' is just that. (The teen believes), ‘I believe that bad things may happen to other people, but, they're not going to happen to me,'" he said.

For instance, parents could tell their teen not to speed, or it could lead to an accident. But, what if they don't crash? Goldsmith said that can undermine the warning the parent just gave.

Another thing the adolescent brain normally has is something called "imaginary audience," when a teen feels that everyone is watching and wants to know everything they are doing. This may contribute to their desire to take on these risky challenges.

So, what works best to deter teens from doing things that may hurt them?

"Particularly with young kids, what's going to work better is serious consequence," Goldsmith said.

Goldsmith added that it's good to talk to teens about the health risks that come from these online challenges, but, parents can't be afraid of punishing their kids.

"(Parents should say), ‘If I hear that you're going to parties and you're getting involved in these games, I'll take your cell phone away for a period of time and you won't have access to your friends and you're not going to go to parties.' That becomes very real," Goldsmith said.

Contributing: Cait Orton

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