Don’t Follow the Crowd

Every generation has its trends and fads. And just about every child is challenged to schoolyard dares. But children need to understand that they don’t have to follow the crowd or take risks to prove that they are brave and to gain the acceptance of their peers.

For example, there’s a disturbing new fad that has rapidly spread via YouTube, Facebook and other social media networks. It’s known as the “cinnamon challenge,” where kids and adults attempt to swallow a heaping tablespoon of cinnamon within sixty seconds. They videotape themselves coughing up clouds of reddish-brown dust as they attempt to keep from choking on the dry spice. Cinnamon blocks the glands that create saliva, making it difficult to swallow. Unbelievably, many viewers are amused by this challenge. However, doctors say the stunt can cause a serious inflammatory infection or cause permanent damage if the powder enters a person’s airways and lungs.

So, why do kids get involved in this type of risky behavior? Let’s face it. Kids hear about things and just do it. That’s part of growing up. As children, we all were tempted to do something that we were told not to do. My late father told me stories of how he and his friends were prohibited from swimming alone in the quarries. But of course, they would sneak off and go swimming anyway. Fortunately, none of them drowned or were hurt. For today’s generation, technology makes it easy to swiftly disseminate risk-taking challenges that appeal to children in the developmental stage. The Internet is so huge that it can make kids feel like millions of people are trying a dare and they are the only ones who aren’t.

When young people take on a dare like the “cinnamon challenge,” they don’t realize they are also promoting the dangers that come with it. Most likely, kids aren’t hearing about the negative aspects of the challenge on the evening news. But parents are listening. And while you don’t want to sound the alarm, you should approach your child in a very neutral, non-judgmental way and not assume that he or she has tried this risky stunt. Tell them you heard about it on TV and ask what they think about it and what advice they would give a friend who wanted to try the challenge. This approach works better than confronting children and forbidding them from trying the stunt because it could lead to injuries or death. Children are naturally curious and when parents tell them not to do something, that is when they really become inquisitive and want to defy the warning.

Parents should also seek out other resources to help children understand and process negative behavior they view on the Internet. Talk with your school system, community youth groups and the youth pastor at your church. These folks are in contact with kids regularly and are aware of the latest fads.