SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- Social media challenges have been around for years and even though there are potential risks to trying some of the challenges, teens continue to try them.
“Kids are more likely to take risks that they don’t even recognize as a risk because there’s sort of lack of reality sometimes on these challenges as to what could happen,” said Dr. John O’Reilly, chief of pediatrics for Baystate Health.
There's been a number of viral social media challenges teen are trying like the ‘Cinnamon Challenge,’ where challengers attempt to swallow a spoonful of cinnamon in a minute, or the ‘Tide Pod Challenge,’ where teens recorded themselves chewing on the laundry detergent pods, or even the ‘Blackout Challenge’ where participants choke themselves to the point of passing out, which recently led to the death of an Amherst boy.
With all the risks, why are teens still trying them? O’Reilly told Western Mass News the issue stems from the teen brain.
“The front of their brain, the prefrontal cortex, which is really the part that should make them look before they leap, is immature,” O’Reilly explained.
Another factor is peer pressure.
“Now, you’re seeing people up on screen, you don’t know if they are telling the truth, you don’t even know who they are, but they’ve suddenly become your friend, they become your peer group,” O’Reilly noted.
So, what can be done to block these videos or even hold social media networks responsible for allowing the content on their sites. According to Steve Weisman, a professor of media law at Bentley University, unfortunately, not much.
“They are protected legally. It’s the kind of thing where ethically, morally, they should be taking some action, but legally, it would be very difficult enforce anything against them,” Weisman explained.
Social media networks are protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
“It essentially provides for a protection from liability for all websites for things that are posted by other people,” Weisman said.
Media companies could block content if they believe it's dangerous, but Weisman said it doesn’t happen often.
“They have the technology to recognize it and they have the ability to block it. I think they are being quite irresponsible when they don’t exercise that responsibility,” Weisman added.
However, not all social media challenges are bad, such as like the viral ‘Ice Bucket Challenge,’ where participants dumped ice water on themselves to raise money and awareness for ALS.
“It worked great and no one got hurt, but the bottom line is the minds of children are not fully developed for quite some time,” Weisman said.
Whether it's considered a good or bad challenge, parents should talk to their teens about what's going on online.
“Help their brain learn the steps of safety,” O’Reilly said.
O’Reilly also said if you are having a hard time getting through to your child, look for other important people in your child’s life, like a relative or coach, who may be able to get through to your child. There are also a number of apps that parents can use to monitor and censor what their kids see online.