Another internet challenge puts teens’ health at risk

A photo of a teenage girl from the shoulders up, looking at the camera.

Aug. 24, 2020—A new and dangerous internet challenge has landed several teens in the hospital.

The "Benadryl challenge" has been aired in videos on TikTok. It urges teens to take a large amount of Benadryl (diphenhydramine) tablets in an effort to get high and hallucinate.

Benadryl is an over-the-counter antihistamine. Taken at lower doses, it can cause fevers and hallucinations. At higher doses, it can cause seizures, an irregular heartbeat and even death.

Because it's available over the counter, teens may not appreciate that Benadryl can cause serious harm. But many nonprescription drugs can be dangerous when taken at higher-than-recommended dosages.

Benadryl belongs to a group of older antihistamines that can cause much more drowsiness and fatigue than newer ones. Side effects of these antihistamines can include:

  • Dizziness.
  • Poor coordination.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Trouble urinating.

Other antihistamines in this group include brand names like Dimetapp, Vistaril and Atarax.

Newer antihistamines, with fewer side effects, include brand names like Zyrtec and Claritin.

Parents: Talk to your teen

Internet challenges aren't anything new. Some are harmless, like those that challenge users to replicate difficult dance moves. Others, like the cinnamon and Benadryl challenges, can lead to serious harm.

Teens are particularly susceptible to these challenges because their brains are still developing, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). They're naturally more impulsive and less likely to think through all the possibilities before acting.

The AAP urges parents to talk to teens about the internet challenges they've heard about. The AAP offers the following tips for these conversations:

  • Ask your teen what internet challenges their friends are talking about. Ask them what they think of these challenges. Encourage them to talk about what could happen to someone who takes a challenge.
  • Use open-ended questions to encourage your teen to think through each step of the challenge. Ask them to consider the worst outcome versus the likely outcome and whether they would consider doing it. Ask if "likes" and comments online are worth the risks.
  • "Friend" your teen on social media. This can help alert you to what's going on in their daily lives. If your teen objects, point out that you're paying for their devices and wireless network.
  • Your teen may be more willing to talk about their peers than themselves. So ask questions about what's going on in school and with their friends.

Learn more about how to help your teen navigate these complicated years by visiting our Teen Health topic center.

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