A spoonful of sugar may help the medicine go down, but a spoonful of cinnamon … that's an entirely different story.
It sounds like something you'd see on the television show Iron Chef, only the seemingly innocent "cinnamon challenge" poses an alarming number of risks for kids and teens who take it on. (The goal: to swallow a spoonful of cinnamon without washing it down with water.) Over the past few months, emergency rooms and poison control centers throughout the country have been flooded with calls from panicked parents and concerned school nurses about this prevalent trend.
But cinnamon isn't the only ingredient that kids are challenging. Milk, marshmallows, water, and even oxygen (rather, lack thereof) can stimulate kids' competitive edge. More than 6 percent of eighth graders have participated in the extremely dangerous "choking game," which involves cutting off oxygen intake by strangling to produce a light-headed, fuzzy feeling, finds a new study published in Pediatrics by the Oregon Health Authority and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 1995 and 2007, approximately 82 kids ages six to 19 died after playing the choking game, according to the study.
To parents who are concerned about their kids taking part in risky competitions like the cinnamon challenge or choking game, try to understand the reasons these games may seem appealing, advises Jill Weber, a Virginia-based clinical psychologist. "There's always some underlying motivator," she says. "If it's a lack of stimulation or novelty [in your child's life], try and channel that into sports or other, healthier activities."
Know, too, that experimenting with risk is a normal part of human development. "Risk is a part of life," Weber says. "In some ways, it's developmentally appropriate. [Kids are] learning to test their boundaries and find their way back to safety." If you suspect that your kid is playing these games, keep your cool. "Parents who panic should pause and understand that kids who do this aren't usually doing it regularly," she says. If you do confront your child, "You don't want to be too punitive. You want to be the kind of parent who your teen can talk to about this. Otherwise, they'll rebel." Weber recommends using a news report or article to jumpstart the conversation.
To help you get ahead of the game, U.S. News has uncovered some of the most popular ways in which kids are challenging each other and possibly harming themselves.
This isn't so much a game as it is a way to sidestep authority. Kids—usually in their teens—cut off their oxygen supply to induce a warm, fuzzy, light-headed sensation similar to feeling high, except that they'll still be able to pass a drug test. The key to this "game" (also known as the fainting game, seven minutes to heaven, tapping out, or sleeper hold) is to relieve the pressure just before losing consciousness. However, by cutting off their air supply with belts, ropes, or their bare hands, kids are putting themselves at risk for brain damage, stroke, and even death. While your kids may pass a drug test with flying colors, there are ways to tell if they're finding that feeling in a different way. According to the Mayo Clinic, clues that your child is playing the choking game include unexplained bruises around the neck, frequent headaches, bloodshot eyes, and disorientation.
Children who regularly play the choking game may not be doing it to please their peers—their behavior may signal something more serious, says Weber. "[These are] children who seem withdrawn, depressed, and who are not doing well in other activities." The Pediatrics study shows that eighth graders who have participated in the game also admitted to gambling, exposure to violence, sexual activity, and illicit substance use. Weber recommends that parents who suspect their child of playing the choking game consult a psychologist.
The cinnamon challenge was sparked by the emergence of YouTube videos showing people swallowing large quantities of the common kitchen spice without water. Upon finishing the challenge, contenders are often immediately hit with an extreme coughing fit and sometimes vomiting. But these are just side effects of the challenge's more serious consequences, which can include lung collapse, pneumonia, and pulmonary edema (the abnormal build-up of fluid in the lungs).