BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The Tide Pod Challenge first went viral on social media platforms in late 2017. The challenge asked young people to ingest detergent pods in order to earn internet clout. Now, these types of social media challenges are happening more frequently and some are very dangerous.
Pediatric Emergency Medicine Physician Dr. Alicia Webb has seen firsthand how dangerous some viral challenges can be.
“We have seen kids who have had long-term consequences, brain damage, and even death from these challenges,” said Webb.
She says the problem with social media challenges is that they rarely show real consequences. One challenge Dr. Webb has seen patients for is the ‘blackout challenge,’ where children intentionally starve themselves of oxygen.
“We’ve seen some bad outcomes with bad consequences from that.”
At the height of the pandemic, the milk crate challenge became popular. People would stack milk crates to create wild stunts. Dr. Webb said she and her colleagues have treated broken bones, head injuries, and back injuries from that challenge.
Then there’s the dry scoop challenge, where people eat a whole scoop of protein or energizing pre-workout powder.
“A very young person had a heart attack from taking that much energy substance. It was really, really dangerous, and that challenge can lead to heart rhythm problems,” Webb said.
The Tide Pod challenge has even made a resurgence. “When those tide pods pop, they can cause burns to the mouth, to the face, to the esophagus and can cause lasting complications.”
Webb has even treated children who have tried the Benadryl challenge, “where kids are encouraged to take a bunch of Benadryl and then hallucinate. And that’s extremely dangerous,” said Webb.
Webb believes that because these challenges show something dangerous as fun and exciting, some kids naturally want to participate. “It can be very easy as you’re sitting, scrolling through these social media sites to find videos, and you lose that sense that they’re actually dangerous,” Webb said.
The ages of kids participating in these dangerous challenges vary — starting at very young ages.
“Any child who is on TikTok, or who has access to these social media platforms, can get these videos shown to them through the algorithm of TikTok or Snapchat or Instagram. So we’ve seen young kids, younger than you might expect, affected,” said Webb.
Dr. Webb says that most of the time, the parents of her young patients are shocked or completely unaware that these challenges even exist before they end up in the emergency room. But, she says, there will always be a new challenge – something new that will shock parents. According to Webb, talking to your kids about what they might see online is so important.
“Make that part of the conversation. Make that part of what you ask your kids what they’re doing every day.
You would want to make sure that you know where your child or teenager is. And who they’re hanging out with, you should know what they’re doing online. So that way, you can help counsel that child or that teenager and say, ‘hey, these things are not safe. They look like they’re safe because, in many of these videos, they’re not actually showing what happens and showing those long-term consequences.'”