Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Greg Jordan

August 23, 2012

Cinnamon, salt and ice: Internet ‘challenges’ pose dangers to teens

— — Christmas is months away, but a release from the West Virginia Poison Center brought it to mind in a funny, backhanded sort of way. What does a poison center notice have to do with Christmas? Well, I’ll give you a hint. It brought to mind one of my favorite Christmas movie lines — “I double-dog dare you!”

Yes, it’s that scene from the movie “A Christmas Story,” the one where Ralphie and his friends debate whether your tongue will freeze to a flagpole. The dares go back and forth between a girl and boy until the girl hands down the ultimate dare, “I double-dog dare you!”

The boy gives in, takes up the dare, and discovers that your tongue really will freeze to an icy steel flagpole if you lick it. Firefighters are summoned to free him.

I accepted a few dares when I was a kid, and I fortunately lived to talk about them. Riding a sled down a hill that would frighten most ATV riders is one of them; believe me, it was an instance of youthful stupidity, not courage.

That release from the West Virginia Poison Center warned of two challenges spreading among the nation’s teens. One is called the Cinnamon Challenge and another is the Salt and Ice Challenge. They sound like the titles of novels written for teens, but these are actual dares.

I had never heard of them. After a quick Internet search, I learned that the first one involves trying to swallow a tablespoon of ground cinnamon without drinking any water. The second calls on the dared to put some salt on their skin — usually on the hand — put ice on top of the salt, and endure the resulting pain for as long as possible. Apparently videos of these challenges can be found on the Internet.

These dares don’t involve alcohol or controlled substances, but they can still be dangerous. A spoonful of ground cinnamon can choke the unwary and get into the lungs. The salt trick can result in painful burns.

These new dares sound about as lunatic as jumping off a roof or launching pop bottle rockets from your mouth. I’ve seen these stunts on television. Alcohol often plays a role in these spectacles, but so does stupidity or a condition I call being “giggle drunk.” This happens when people get caught up in a moment they believe to be hysterically funny and encourage each other to do insane things. In many of these videos, folks are catching themselves on fire or crashing into walls while their so-called friends cheer them on. These friends usually keep laughing when they should be calling 911.

I’m happy to say that I don’t have friends who ask me to drink flaming cocktails or jump off bridges. Real friends don’t ask you to risk mutilation as the price of friendship or promise you that a stunt will make you an Internet star. Yes, I know that a lot of teens want to be famous, but most of the famous people I know didn’t blow themselves up or swallow ground cinnamon.

The poison control center encourages parents to talk to their teenagers about the danger of the Cinnamon Challenge and the Salt and Ice Challenge. Warning teens about trying all the crazy stunts seen on television is a good idea, too. Be sure to tell them that the editors of these shows are careful not to show videos in which somebody was killed or maimed. Just because something technically isn’t illegal does not mean it’s not dangerous.

I know teens want to be popular and famous. Who doesn’t dream about being popular and famous?  Fortunately, there are ways to become famous without breaking bones or losing teeth. Write a best-selling novel. Invent a new gizmo that everybody will love. Create a new company that will employ thousands of people. There are hundreds of constructive ways to achieve fame and popularity without a trip to the emergency room.

My hope is that none of our local teens will try swallowing cinnamon or burning themselves with salt and ice. Lots of teens are featured in the Daily Telegraph for doing good works or overcoming adversity. They didn’t have to jump off a roof or try wrestling a pet python to get attention.

The next time friends of any age encourage you to try something that sounds crazy or just unpleasant, think twice. Friends don’t ask friends to get themselves killed. Think about the possible consequences if a stunt goes wrong. Remember that you can actually get hurt or even die.

What’s more, think of the embarrassment. Do you want everyone to know that your last words were: “Hey, everybody! Watch this!”

Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.

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