It's a truth as old as time. Get a group of teens together and one of them is bound to do something stupid or dangerous -- and encourage their peers to do the same. But in this modern tech-driven world, teens no longer need to physically be in one place to egg each other on. Social media can enable teens to succumb to peer pressure en masse.
Parents can keep tabs on who their teen hangs out with on Friday night, but it's much harder to control their social interaction online. Thanks to hashtags, social media dares have gotten increasingly easy to come by. Many are outrageous -- and dangerous.
This week the #KylieJennerChallenge sent a number of teens to emergency rooms across the country, a result of suctioning lips with a glass or jar to emulate the Kardashian sibling's pillow-lipped look.
There's planking, a stunt in which multiple people lie face-down, "stacked" like wooden planks or on their own in random public places.
Think your car can drive itself? Try "ghost riding the whip." Or actually -- don't. It's dangerous.
If you like marshmallows, the chubby bunny dare urges you to stuff your mouth to capacity -- a choking hazard, doctors warn.
If that's not daunting enough, there's the Cinnamon Challenge, which involves swallowing a spoonful of the spice without drinking any liquids to wash it down. Teens can choke or inhale the powder into their lungs, leading to "dozens of calls to poison centers, emergency department visits, and even hospitalizations for adolescents requiring ventilator support for collapsed lungs," the journal Pediatrics reports.
Social media aligns perfectly with the tendencies of the teenage brain, which is more open to new and novel experiences. Research has found that during teenage development there is an initial expansion of grey matter in the brain, which means neural pathways are plentiful and open to anything that could get feel-good hormones going. That seems especially true of things that are known to be dangerous. Through neurological imaging, researchers have determined that the control center of the brain, known the prefrontal cortex, is still underdeveloped during the teenage years.
"This is the prime age to try various things, especially physical things," Dr. Amir Levine, an adult, child and adolescent psychiatrist and neuroscientist at the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at Columbia University, told CBS News. "The problem here is you're taking a certain characteristic of teenagers and you use social media, it can have a huge effect on a lot of people in a much shorter amount of time."
To some degree, all people respond to social affirmation, and they can easily find it online. Gaining recognition and attention triggers certain neurotransmitters in the brain, stimulating a pleasurable response. A study published in 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Harvard researchers found social media activates dopamine receptors in the brain. Previous research has also found that, on average, around 80 percent of what a person posts on social media is about him or herself, rather than the world around them.
Experts say teens also have a need to feel connected, even if it's through asinine behavior. Outrageous online dares create a sense of community and help teens avoid feelings of isolation; that may help explain why a video of a teen eating 25 saltines gets 200,000 views on YouTube.
"They want to be different and not be the same as adults," said Levine. "They really have a very important need to do the things that their peers do. Part of peer pressure is about conforming to your peer group. That's the process of separating from your parents."