Why the word "challenge" convinces kids to put their lives in danger

Children don't always have the cognitive skills to realize what they're doing is dangerous, experts say.

TAMPA — What is it about the word "challenge" that convinces kids to put their lives in danger?

That's a question stumping parents even more these days, thanks to social media.

It was a dare that made an 8-year-old girl from Boynton Beach drink boiling water.

That was four months ago, and 11 days ago, she died.

All of that because of a dare.

This isn't the first time you've heard about a child or teenager going too far for a challenge.

So why are they so susceptible?

It has to do with the difference between an adult brain, and theirs.

The prefrontal cortex - right between your eyebrows - is responsible for cognitive skills: things like planning ahead, inhibition, self-control, thinking of consequences.

That group of densely packed isn't fully developed until well into your 20s.

So it's an understatement to say kids have a full grasp of the consequences of their actions, including drinking boiling water as a "challenge".

Tampa Bay Crisis Center CEO Clara Reynolds spent decades as a social worker with kids.

“Our kids are so very smart. Because they're smart, we think that they're mature, and that's the big difference,” Reynolds said. “They see that as a challenge - it's something that they can check off. They get so excited about checking off the box and participating in the challenge that they may not think about, ‘Oh my gosh, this is dangerous.’”

So when you see some guy doing a challenge to eat a cactus, or a mouthful of cinnamon, or the deadly “blue whale challenge” where kids accidentally commit suicide, and you say, ‘Why would ANYONE do that?!' They really aren't thinking about it like you are. So, here's how to talk to them.

“Start those conversations with your kid before a challenge happens,” Reynolds said. “So as you're riding in the car, maybe you're cooking together, you're doing dishes together ... talk about, ‘Hey, I saw something about a challenge. Have you ever done any challenges? Have your friends heard about any challenges?’ And start having those conversations. Making it something that is acceptable to come to you with, because again, not only are you setting an example for a challenge, you're also setting an example for how you'll respond when something is dangerous or controversial.”

If you need help starting that conversation with your child, call The Tampa Bay Crisis Center at 211. They are there to help.

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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