How to talk to your kids about the ‘Tide Pod Challenge’

YouTube, Facebook and Instagram are pulling any videos depicting people eating Tide laundry packets, calling them an "inherent risk.". Getty Images

It’s obvious to most people that digesting laundry detergent is a very bad idea, but participants of a recent social media fad appear not to understand the dangers.

Teens have been eating laundry detergent as part of a “Tide Pod Challenge” and posting the videos to YouTube.

An Edmonton doctor has a detailed explanation of the fad’s dangers.

“These Tide pods or any of these pods have a very high, volatile mix of chemicals in them, in terms of ethanol and hydrogen peroxide and something called long-chained polymers, which start when you ingest them,” Injury Prevention Centre associate director Dr. Kathy Belton said.

“They cause caustic burns in the mouth and the esophagus and the digestive system. So you end up vomiting and then once the long-chain polymers hit your digestive track, that starts the diarrhea and it’s not normal diarrhea, it’s explosive diarrhea.”

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READ MORE: ‘Tide Pod Challenge’ dares teens to eat laundry detergent and health experts are concerned

Belton says there are also long terms affects, such as the possibility of having a seizure, coma or even dying.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers says they received 39 phone calls regarding ingestion of the detergent packs in the first 15 days of 2018 — prompting the association to issue a warning on Jan. 16.

In Alberta, there has been one confirmed case reported to the Poison & Drug Information Service specifically connected to the Tide Pod Challenge. Belton is concerned the number could increase.

“My worry is that like anything that goes on social media is that teens are going to think this is an OK behaviour and are going to try this,” she said.

“I never thought in 2018 we would have to be talking to teens about not eating soap. It just seems like one of those backward things.”

Dr. Tony DeBono, a clinical psychologist at McMaster Children’s Hospital, says a number of factors are to blame.

“Teens are going through a tremendous amount of development, cognitively, biologically, so their ability to regulate impulses is somewhat impacted and then there’s this issue around social connectedness. People can do some pretty incredible things when they are doing it within the guise of wanting to be connected socially, both in terms of positivity and negativity. Social media can sometimes provide the illusion of that sort of connectedness.”

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DeBono added social media sends mixed messages about what’s acceptable for teens.

“You get an enormous amount of reinforcement through the ideas of likes and followers if you do participate,  so the idea of not participating can sometimes be a real challenge for people’s decision making.”

READ MORE: Tide Pod Challenge: YouTube, Facebook pull videos they call ‘dangerous’

DeBono suggests parents need to help their children see the bigger picture when it comes to using social media.

“I think the bigger questions that we need to face as a society are: What are our values? What do we stand for? Are we having conversations with our teens about their values as opposed to some sense of fame or popularity?”

He suggests starting a conversation with your kids by asking: What do you stand for? What are your meaningful life goals? How are you going to engage in behaviour that’s in line with your values and that are going to move you towards your life goals as opposed to that immediate gratification or fix- through ‘likes’ and followers.”

“The question shouldn’t be why are teens consuming poisonous laundry detergent, the question should be what’s next? And why are folks searching for connectedness in these potentially dangerous ways?” DeBono said.

YouTube and Facebook are removing any Tide Pod Challenge videos from their sites, saying the content is “dangerous” and poses an “inherent risk of physical harm.”

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“Our Community Standards prohibit content that promotes or encourages suicide or any other type of self-injury, including self-mutilation and eating disorders,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to Global News. “As outlined in our Community Standards, we don’t allow the promotion of self-injury and will remove it when we’re made aware of it.”

with files from Julia Wong and Jennifer Ivanov

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