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The Dangers of Viral Internet Challenges

Internet use is a part our daily lives, most of us can't even remember time when the world wide web was not easily accessible. We work, go to school, shop and even date online. This extends to our children. Today's tweens and teens spend about 6 hours a day online. A small percentage of this time can be for educational use, but more and more children use the internet for entertainment and social interaction. Today's teens access the web not only through their family desktop, but through personal laptops, tablets and of course, their smart phones. Parents are sometimes faced with the tough choice of respecting your teen's privacy and keeping them safe.

In the last decade parents and their teens have faced the dangers of cyber bullies, con artists, kidnappers, pedophiles and even murderers targeting their children online. There are numerous tips and monitoring programs and apps to keep the bad guys from getting your kids. However the newest threat to our children's safety is themselves. This new trend of internet challenges has gone from silly and messy to life threatening, as kids come up with more and more dangerous ways to hurt themselves and others for a few more likes on Facebook.

Some challenges are food based and seem harmless. The cinnamon challenge involves ingesting a spoonful of cinnamon in 60 seconds without drinking anything and then uploading a video to the internet. The result is usually a fit of gagging and coughing clouds of cinnamon. Some performing the stunt seem to gasp for air and even vomit. However this seemingly silly challenge is more dangerous than it seems. Since cinnamon coats and dries the mouth and throat, vomiting and inhaling of cinnamon, leading to throat irritation, breathing difficulties, and risk of pneumonia or a collapsed lung! A teen in Ypsilanti, Michigan spent four days in the hospital with a collapsed lung after doing the cinnamon challenge. Another food based challenge chubby bunny has proved fatal. This innocently named challenge requires the participant to stuff marshmallows into their mouths without chewing or swallowing and repeat the phrase "chubby bunny". If any participant gags, coughs, or spits they are "out" of the game. The winner manages to utter the expression through the largest number of marshmallows. Doesn't seem to bad right? Wrong. Chubby bunny has caused the deaths of 12-year-old Catherine Fish and of 32-year-old Janet Rudd. Both died from suffocation due to the throat being blocked with marshmallows.

Not all challenges are food based recently there was the cold water challenge. The rules of the dare seem to differ around the country, with some people donating to charity for each of their nominations who complete the plunge, while others have been given the the ultimatum to either jump or donate.What started out as campaign to raise money for charity has gone viral and caused many injuries and even deaths. Most participants have ice cold water poured over their heads, the nature of the these challenges encourages people to attempt to out do themselves. One teen has drowned after jumping into a freezing lake as he attempted the challenge. The body does an involuntary gasp when you jump into cold water, and that can cause you to breathe in water. You can drown from only a half a cup of water in your system.

One of the newest and most dangerous challenges is the Fire Challenge. The fire challenge involves covering your body with an accelerant and setting yourself on fire. Friends will then video the act and share it on the internet. Last month a 15-year-old boy, James Shores, doused himself with alcohol and was willingly set ablaze by his friends. Most who participate in this “game,” do so inside of the shower in case the fire spreads. In Shores case, he was not near a shower or any other water source. His friends tried unsuccessfully to put the fire out, but he later died from his injuries.

Law enforcement is warning participators about the dangers of this act and have urged the public to stop sharing the videos. FaceBook is doing their part by deleting all Fire Challenge videos off of their website. However, it's up to parents to keep their children safe. Here are some steps you can take to keep your teen safe.

  1. Many parents assume that "my kid would never do such dumb thing". Try to understand that teenagers are sometimes more immature than we think and can be easily influenced. Keep an open dialogue about peer pressure in their social lives.
  2. Be aware and stay up to date on these types of viral challenges. If you don't know what to look for, you can't help.
  3. Most teens think in the now. Talk to your teen and their friends about the reality of long term effects of these dangerous stunts. Explain frankly that it can drastically change their lives forever. One thousand likes isn't worth the permanent damage to your body.

Parenting a teen in the age of "Insta-Fame" can be daunting. Staying aware of the dangers and pitfalls of the internet and talking to your kids in an open, honest and accessible manner can help them navigate safely.

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