SONY DSCNow that kids are headed back to school, more time with friends, an increased amount of peer pressure and less supervision all combine to make a dangerous mix. “I dare you” is how it usually begins – a few simple words, a group of kids and a smartphone to document the foolery. From the cinnamon challenge, attempting to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon in 60 seconds without drinking water, to the milk challenge, attempting to drink a gallon of milk in one hour without vomiting, a recent trend in the media has parents and doctors sounding the alarm.

However, more and more kids are attempting rather than avoiding the dangerous dares and challenges they see on the internet. Which begs the question, are we doing enough to end the trend? Or are we waiting for the next cinnamon challenge to hit the web?

Google “cinnamon challenge” and hundreds of videos appear, all with a similar outcome – a tablespoon of cinnamon, a puff of brown smoke, followed by minutes of coughing and choking. To quote Albert Einstein, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Unfortunately that’s exactly what kids today are doing and what these challenges are glorifying.

Tony Woodward, MD, MBA, medical director of emergency medicine at Seattle Children’s, says the real issue is the extreme amount of peer pressure children feel, and the speed at which these types of dares are gaining popularity.

“The cinnamon challenge is a good example,” says Woodward. “All it takes is someone to say you should do this, and that peer pressure, without supervision, sometimes allows kids to get into situations they shouldn’t be in.”

What’s worse, many of these dares and challenges carry serious risks and can result in injury, emergency room visits and even death.

“With the cinnamon challenge, kids can aspirate the cinnamon into their lungs and sometimes even end up in the ICU on a ventilator,” says Woodward.

What are the risks and why do kids do these dares?

No dare is safe. There is always a risk. Dares may seem innocent in nature, but dares can quickly escalate. The name alone implies a level of danger and consequence.

“The problem with kids and dares, especially in boys, is that they don’t have the ability to take the risk at hand and identify what the outcome or consequence might be,” says Woodward.

Evans says that another compounding factor is social media, especially for teenagers. Popular shows like “Tosh.O” or “Ridiculousness” promote these types of challenges, making it hard for kids to avoid the allure of trying it themselves. Peer pressure only ignites the problem and social media gives it legs. To children and teenagers, they want to do what they see on television.

“Developmentally teens are at the peak of conforming with their peers, so they want to do what everyone else is doing,” says Evans. “If someone is able to drink a whole bunch of soy sauce, they think they can do it too.”

So what should parents do?

Communication is really important not only with children, but with other parents as well, says Yolanda Evans, MD, with Seattle Children’s adolescent medicine division. Have lines of communication open. Talk to children about their actions, making sure they understand consequences and risk.

“Parents should tell their kids that if their gut tells them they shouldn’t be doing something, listen to their gut,” says Evans.

Also, it’s important that children and teens feel like they can call or send a quick text if they feel uncomfortable in a situation. Give them a way to get out and have a family plan, says Woodward. Talk to kids about standing up for themselves and have a child practice saying “no.” The more confident and comfortable they feel saying “no,” the easier it will be to walk away.

What makes dares so dangerous?

Many times we don’t know why a child was in a certain situation, says Woodward. We see them after the fact, in the emergency room. Evans says that drugs and alcohol can also play a major role by impairing judgement and affecting decision making.

“I remember one patient who was dared by his buddies to rollerblade off a roof and land on a trampoline,” says Woodward. “He did. Everything worked fine except there was a stick poking up from under the trampoline. He landed on the stick, resulting in a serious injury. The young man didn’t realize he was putting himself in harms way until after he was hurt.”

So what’s the golden rule? Remember, if it doesn’t seem like a good idea, don’t do it. Get out of the situation. A dare or challenge may seem all in good fun, but the consequences could last a lifetime.

For more information about dangerous dares or to arrange an interview with Dr. Woodward or Dr. Evans, please contact the public relations team at 206-987-4500 or press@seattlechildrens.org.