Internet Challenges Pose Real Dangers for Children

A recent study says children who struggle with conduct problems or depression have higher odds of participating in dangerous internet challenges. A child psychologist explains ‘red flags’ parents should look out for when it comes to risk-taking behaviors.

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CLEVELAND – With more children having access to personal electronic devices, internet challenges have grown in popularity in recent years.

According to Vanessa K. Jensen, PsyD, ABPP, of Cleveland Clinic Children’s, research has shown phenomena such as ‘the choking game’ are more likely to be tried by children who have symptoms of depression, behavioral disorders, or aggressive behaviors.

“In previous studies, teens and pre-teens who have some suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm, are more likely to be associated with others who have tried these ‘games’ or engaged in other high-risk behaviors.” 

One recent study looked at the prevalence of ‘the choking game’ challenge – a dangerous and potentially fatal activity in which children attempt to limit blood flow and oxygen to the brain to produce a ‘high.’

Researchers looked at children between the ages of 9-16 and found that close to 10 percent of the 1,771 children studied had performed this game.

Dr. Jensen said adolescents and teens participating in risk-taking behavior is nothing new, but what raises a red flag is that these internet games seem to attract kids who are emotionally distressed.

The concern is that performing these games may be a way for some teens to play with the idea of suicide.

Dr. Jensen said sometimes when children or teens try risky things – like taking too much ibuprofen on purpose – it can be a call for attention, but one that should never be ignored.

She adds that all it takes is one time for risk-taking to go too far.

Peer pressure also plays an important role when it comes to risk-taking behavior.

“Peer pressure can become very powerful at various ages – especially in that pre-teen, young teen age, where the kids aren’t quite considering the future by asking, ‘What if I do this? What might happen then?” she said. It’s often much more about in the moment – ‘This sounds fun, I’ll try it.”

Dr. Jensen said the most important thing parents can do is communicate with their child.

“Talk about it, ask about it,” she said. “Whenever something’s on the news, or in media, that a parent sees about teens, bring it up over dinner time or at breakfast. Say, ‘You know, I heard about this; what do you and your friends think about this?’” 

Dr. Jensen said parents should keep in mind that many kids won’t immediately admit to partaking in risky-behavior, but parents can often tell whether their child is being honest. If you suspect they’re not being honest – keep asking.

Complete results of the study can be found in Pediatrics.

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