Fort Worth, Texas,
14:16 PM

Cook Children's Experts Warn of Dangerous Social Media Challenges on 'The Doctors'

Two Cook Children’s experts are warning parents nationwide about the potential dangers of social media challenges.

Hospitalist nurse practitioner Amber Jewison and psychiatrist Kia Carter, M.D. were featured on the nationally-syndicated show “The Doctors” on Thursday, Nov. 5. The show highlighted a recent trend of TikTok videos that encourage viewers to take excessive amounts of the common allergy medicine diphenhydramine, aka Benadryl.

Cook Children’s first reported on these videos on Checkup Newsroom over the summer after three teens were admitted to the hospital for overdoses.

“We had three patients in a week who specifically told me they saw a video on TikTok that told them they could take Benadryl to get high, and it gave them a specific number (to take),” Amber said in an interview on "The Doctors." “When I viewed that video, I was pretty shocked.”

Patients who overdose on Benadryl can have abnormal electrocardiograms (EKGs) and may not be able to urinate. It’s even possible to suffer seizures. Amber has treated such patients and says parents are usually shocked to find out their child has overdosed.

“I try to tell parents that it’s really good to know what’s out there on social media and to be aware of what your kids may be doing,” she said.

And it’s not just shocking for parents. Medical professionals are also surprised to see healthy adolescents and teens taking part in these dangerous challenges.

“I was alarmed, I was extremely shocked that children are participating in something so lethal,” said Dr. Carter, who is also the medical director of Psychiatry at Cook Children’s. “Being a parent myself, it’s petrifying to think about the idea of my pre-adolescent daughter participating in this.”

So why do teens participate in dangerous viral challenges like the one involving Benadryl?

“I think people have to realize that children’s brains are not fully developed like an adult and judgement and executive function are a huge part in making decisions. When we see kids participating in these high-risk behaviors, we have to remember that their brains are not fully developed,” said Dr. Carter. “There’s some research also to show that social media and participating in these challenges is activating the reward center in the brain, which can cause kids to become further attached to participating in these challenges.”

Dr. Carter says it’s also important to realize the difference between a child participating in an online challenge, and one who is actively trying to harm themselves. She says kids who are taking part in challenges because they want to fit in are usually active and part of a social group. Kids who are taking medicines or over-the-counter substances to harm themselves are often excluded or bullied on social media.

Her advice for parents - be aware.

“Know what your children are doing on social media, participate and ask questions,” Dr. Carter said.

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