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More Than Child’s Play: Dangerous Games

bigstock-150274811 Young people are inclined to take risks and push the envelope when it comes to daredevil activities. Stories recalled from the childhood of one woman, told by her father, were about his history of jumping on and off moving trains and swimming in reservoirs with his buddies. He shrugged them off as normal behavior when he knew his mother would be horrified if she ever found out. Tame stuff when compared to the games teens are engaged in today.

A warning was posted on the Facebook page of a mother of a middle school boy, after receiving a letter from the school, letting parents know that children as young as her son were involved in hazardous and potentially deadly activities. She was stunned and felt a need to let other parents know what their own children might be doing.

Some of these present day perils are highlighted in an article, called “12 Dangerous Games Your Children Might Play” by Ronald Agrella. They include:

Choking Game

This game involves strangulation by using a noose or strap to cut off the oxygen supply to the brain and create a high. A CDC study into 82 reported choking game deaths found those who died ranged in age from 6 to 19, with the average age being 13 years old. Almost all of those who died were playing alone. Most of the parents (93 percent) were unaware that the game existed, according to the CDC.

Cinnamon Challenge

This game made headlines after being seen on YouTube and was the subject of a segment on Mythbusters, a Discovery Channel series that uses science to test popular myths and rumors. Someone swallows a teaspoon full of cinnamon, which immediately dries out the mouth. The painful effects may include violent coughing and vomiting. The cinnamon can also enter the lungs and require respirator-breathing support.


A kid chugs a full bottle of cough syrup. The syrup produces a high induced from the chemical DXM (dextromethorphan), which in large doses can produce hallucinations and can kill in excessive amounts. More than one in 10 teens has used over-the-counter cough or cold medicines to get high, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Gallon challenge

In this game, a child drinks a gallon of water or milk within a one-hour period. The human stomach can’t handle this volume, so the person becomes violently ill, vomits and may suffer diarrhea and cramps.

Why Do Teens Play Russian Roulette with Their Lives?

  • There is a sense of invulnerability and invincibility.
  • They want to escape boredom.
  • They experience peer pressure
  • They see some of these activities in movies or on television
  • Some experience depression and have a desire to end their lives
  • They may be in denial of potential negative consequences
  • They discount the ‘horror stories’ told by well- meaning adults
  • They are straddling the line between childhood and adulthood and not firmly in either realm.
  • They desire independence and fear it simultaneously.
  • They may experience emotional dysregulation.

One in four teens has misused a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime, according to survey results from the partnership at and the MetLife Foundation.

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Brain Maturity Is a Key Factor to Unlocking the Door to Safer Choices

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Jay Giedd, MD says that the way the brain develops creates a period of risk-taking susceptibility that is heightens with the onset of puberty.

Brain development is far different in adults than in teens. The reaction of the adolescent brain can be compared to that of an easily distracted squirrel moving at warp speed up a tree.

“That is when the balance is tipped most in favor of high emotions and risk taking,” he says. “The key parts of the brain involved in controlling impulses and risky behavior don’t really reach maturity until about age 25.”

A Family Affair

In studies created by Lawrence Fisher, PhD, professor at the School of Medicine, University of California at San Francisco, and S. Shirley Feldman, PhD, associate director of the Program in Human Biology at Stanford University in California, adolescents who describe their families as emotionally close, orderly, and stable (compared to those reared in emotionally disconnected families) participate in significantly lower numbers of high risk behaviors. These adolescents are less likely to:

  • regularly drink alone
  • drive a car while under the influence of alcohol
  • engage in promiscuous sexual activity
  • use drugs
  • smoke cigarettes

How to Encourage Safer Choices

  • Have an open door/open ear/open mind policy in your home about topics such as sex, emotions, substances, driving, abuse, bullying, rape prevention, body image, eating disorders, self-esteem, smoking, mental health issues and good self- care
  • Remember your own likely ill-advised decisions in your youth.
  • Do a cost-benefit analysis with your child, so he or she can weigh the possibilities.
  • Let your child know you want to trust his or her discernment.
  • Guide your teen to develop skills in various aspects of life, so that confidence will grow.
  • Listen more than talk.
  • Encourage him or her to have peers who make healthy decisions as well.
  • Develop a network of other parents, so you are each aware of what your children are doing.
  • Make sure that your children are supervised at the homes of their friends.
  • Keep abreast of trends such as the ones highlighted in the beginning of the article, as well as the substances that are accessible. You might be surprised at the variety and availability even in ‘safe neighborhoods’.
  • Monitor without helicopter parenting.
  • Encourage your child to have life affirming hobbies and volunteer opportunities to keep them occupied.
  • Create a balance of structure and freedom so your child can learn from mistakes without repeating them.
  • Model responsible decision making.
  • Teach resiliency skills.
  • Create appropriate boundaries and limits, rather than being rigid or laissez faire.
  • Help them discover their own unique identity.
  • Pick your battles. Refrain from assessing and correcting everything your child does.
  • Realize that you are the parent and not your child’s friend while he or she is growing up. There is time for that relationship when maturity occurs.
  • Role play possible scenarios so that he or she will be prepared should they arise.

Conscious awareness, as well as early and ongoing intervention can be a game changer.

More Than Child’s Play: Dangerous Games

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW is a journalist and interviewer, licensed social worker, interfaith minister, radio host and best-selling author.

APA Reference
Weinstein, E. (2018). More Than Child’s Play: Dangerous Games. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 14 Oct 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.