Parents beware of social media challenges facing teens

INDIANA – The US Food and Drug Administration is warning not to fall prey to social media challenges like cooking chicken in NyQuil and swallowing laundry detergent pods.

While most of us would recoil in horror from such dangerous suggestions, adolescents and young adults continue to be susceptible to social media dares like these, according to the US Food and Drug Administration.

“One social media trend relying on peer pressure is online video clips of people misusing nonprescription medications and encouraging viewers to do so too. These video challenges, which often target youths, can harm people — and even cause death,” the FDA stated in a warning.

One recent challenge posted on social media encouraged people to cook chicken in a mixture of acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, and doxylamine – the basic ingredients of NyQuil and some similar over-the-counter cough and cold products.

The challenge sounds silly and unappetizing — and it is. But it could also be very unsafe. Boiling a medication can make it much more concentrated and change its properties in other ways. Even if you don’t eat the chicken, inhaling the medication’s vapors while cooking could cause high levels of the drugs to enter your body. It could also hurt your lungs. Put simply: Someone could take a dangerously high amount of cough and cold medicine without even realizing it. 

The agency also pointed to a TikTok challenge daring people to take large doses of the over-the-counter antihistamine diphenhydramine. Called the “Benadryl Challenge,” to induce hallucinations.

Prompted by news reports of teenagers needing to go to the emergency room or, in some cases, dying after participating in this challenge and taking too much medication, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned the public about the danger of high doses of diphenhydramine. 

Social media rewards outrageous behavior, and the more outrageous, the bigger the bragging rights. It’s a quick-moving, impulsive environment, and the fear of losing out is real for teens. That environment plays into a teen’s underdeveloped ability to think through their actions and possible consequences.

Kids won’t necessarily stop to consider that laundry detergent is a poison that can burn their throats and damage their airways. Or that misusing medications like Benadryl can cause serious heart problems, seizures and coma. What they will focus on is that a popular kid in class did this and got hundreds of likes and comments.

The teenage brain isn’t fully developed, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In fact, the prefrontal cortex, which manages rational thought, problem-solving, and consequences, doesn’t fully develop until the mid-20s. That’s why teens and young adults are often impulsive and more prone to act without considering the ramifications, the AAP said.

“Kids won’t necessarily stop to consider the dangers,” warned the American Pediatric Association (APA).

“What they will focus on is that a popular kid in class did this and got hundreds of likes and comments,” they stated. “Social media rewards outrageous behavior, and the more outrageous, the bigger the bragging rights.”

Parents should keep the lines of communication open and ask their teen and their friends about social media dares and discuss them calmly and without judgment while encouraging them to think through any potential negative outcomes.

“Remind your children that overdoses can occur with OTC (over-the-counter) drugs as well as with prescription drugs,” the FDA stated. At home, keep all over-the-counter and prescription drugs locked up securely, the agency stressed.

If your teen seems reluctant to talk about what they’ve seen, ask about their friends instead: “Sometimes kids are more willing to talk about their peers than themselves,” the APA noted.

If a child appears to have taken too many medications and “is hallucinating, can’t be awakened, has had or is having a seizure, has trouble breathing, has collapsed, or is showing other signs of drug misuse, call 911 to get immediate medical attention. Or contact poison control at 1-800-222-1222 or online,” the FDA said.