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When we talk about dares, I am sure; everybody has his own childhood memories to this topic. This can quickly become a real test of somebody’s courage. You all might remember all the negative and positive feeling which come along with those dares. And everybody who is working with teenagers will soon realise that dares are still an issue today. And really, why should that have changed.

Jump from a bridge

To examine the subject a little closer and understand backgrounds I found an interesting study carried through in Nordrhein-Westfalen (Germany) in 2001. 1000 children and adolescents participated in this study.

Examples of dangerous dares, especially in the traffic

Again and again, you read of illegal car races, where adolescents and young adults, sometimes without a licence, race cars and get their first experience with an adrenal rush. Unfortunately, those illegal races end in fatalities at times. Driving without a licence is quite attractive for many young people.

There were also dares, where young people tried to cross a highway during peak hours. Out of 5 adolescents, 4 made it, while one died.

Another popular dare is the so-called "Car-rafting". Here, inline skaters or skateboarder hold on to the body of a moving car. However, the wheels of the skateboard are hardly made for the speed of the car. Therefore, serious injuries follow.

Not to forget, there is still car surfing, where a person stands on the roof of a driving car. A dare which claims in the USA 100 lives each year.

Alternatively, to car surfing, there is also train surfing. If the person gets in contact with the power line, this dare becomes deadly. Two teenagers just recently realised the danger even of coming close to such a power line. A light arch can stretch over almost 1.50m through the air. Even it might not be deadly it gives the body a shock of 15.000 Volt.

Less risky darings

Less risky but no the less aggressive are dares where another (stronger) guy or a dog is provoked, or those who are afraid of the dark are being dared on a cemetery at night. Most of those dares are harmless and basically involve overcoming one’s disgust of creepy things. For example, daring a child to eat a spider or earthworm. Another dare would be the acceptance of pain, such as holding nettles or holding one hand as long as possible above a flame. Those are typical teenage dares.

Another area where dares are often carried out is in the sexual-erotic field. Those dares commonly deal with overcoming shame or embarrassment. For example, asking out or even kissing a boy or girl.

Another way to live out those dares would be through extreme sports. One popular game among young people is to climb on a roof and jump several meters back to the ground or into the water. Another part is criminals acts which are committed as a dare. Among them are stealing cars or stealing, in general, breaking into houses or consuming of illegal substances.

Another phenomenon is the so-called "pilot test", where the air supply is briefly interrupted to trigger dizziness and even fainting. But even this "game" comes not without consequences.

Why dares and what lies beneath?

The media and the current social environment favour dares

The social environment plays an important role, whether a child or adolescent may be tempted to test his courage. Some are eager to "belong", "to be accepted in their peer group.” They want to show or at least prove that hey indeed have what it takes to belong. However, the media takes is part in this peer pressure by encouraging others to do the same. Especially shows like "Joko and Klaas" or "Jackass" propagate the virtues of courage and resilience. Besides that, YouTube clips are just as much an invitation to do the same. Particularly extreme stunts are usually rewarded with many “Likes” and recognition.

The kids, watching those clips also want to be “cool, strong or bold”; do something that is “unique, stunning and admired by others.” However, due to their stage of development (physically, mentally, emotionally as well as little life experience) young people and teenagers are not able to identify the risks for themselves or others. Nor are they able to assess the danger correctly.

Depending on gender there are different dares

There are indeed, gender-related differences. However, different studies arrive at different results. For example, according to the Raithels study, 18% of the girls and 32% of the boys participated in dares. However, the Niebaum study indicates 33% of girls and 42% boys. None the less, in both studies it becomes obvious that boys are more likely to fall into this category. Boys are much more likely to engage in dares which are dangerous to dear life or engage in criminal deeds. Girls, on the other hand, are more aimed to break conventions or endure pain. The difference is attributed that girls are better adapted to their social role which makes them much more likely to commit a crime.

Reputation & Fame

Also, the intentions of boys and girls are different. Boys want to be seen and soak up the supposed recognition. That is expressed by the fact that their dares are mainly carried out in the public view. Girls on the other side, do their dares more covertly and usually within their peer group.

Younger children are particular at risk.

Dares are also connected to a certain age. For example, children aged 9-14 years of age are at a particularly high risk. According to the Raithel study, 20 – 27% of all children put their courage to the test within this age; with 11 years of age are being at the highest risk. From 14 and up, those acts are becoming increasingly uninteresting, and once they reached age 17, they lose almost completely any interest in dares. By all participants of the study, age 17 and older any participation in dares falls to around 12%.

Psychosocial reasons

Dares - bridge jumping
Dares: jump from a bridge | ©:

The risk factors, which make some kids more vulnerable to dares maybe already within the child itself. It might be vulnerable, has poor coping strategies to deal with its emotions, has a bad temper, or any other developmental problems which increase the risk of participating in dares. This also applies to aggressive, impulsive, egocentric kids. The need for an adrenal rush, cognitive limitations or low self-esteem are additional risk factors.

The family environment plays a great role as well. Kids are more likely to participate in dares if their parents are mentally ill, incapable of education and poor communication. Other reasons include criminal parents, the recent death of a parent or marital conflicts.

However, overprotected children also tend to participate in dares. Especially the offspring of helicopter parents, whose children are not even allowed to walk to school on their own, will feel a need to explore their limits and therefore are likely to participate in dares.

Putting one own’s courage to the test is also connected to the social environment of the child and its level of education. The higher the educational level, the more likely they are not to participate in dares. Poverty is another reason for many kids. The same is true for poor living conditions and parents, which have poor to no education.

Another relevant factor is the circle of friends. For many children, their peers are a greater point of reference than their parents. Peers are formative for young people, while at the same time, members of one group seek conformity. This means that they adjust their behaviour to the peer group. If this group is likely to take risks, then this will rub off to the individual.

Psychological background for Dares

Developmental-Psychological Approach

Dares are interpreted as an age-specific phenomenon in which young people engage in higher risks then adults would do. This risk willingness is explained through a need of the young person that he (still) has to prove himself in the world, among his peers. After all, this is the age when kids develop their identity which should be instantiated by as many as possible skills, and dares are one way of strengthening this new-found self-esteem. It is also the age, where kids prepare for the role in society. After all, at some point, they have to learn to deal with dangerous situations.

Another reason is recognition within their peer group. This is also an important stepping stone in finding one’s identity. And only who get this recognition can develop a healthy self-esteem.

Young people are generally not in the position to recognise risks to their safety as such, and so they trivialise even situations that can easily be fatal. In addition, a distorted self-perception leads to an overestimation of their own abilities and the feeling of being indestructible.

Biosocial approach

In addition to the developmental approach, the biosocial approach factor in certain processes in the brain, which is responsible for higher risk taking. Some young people show a tendency to the so-called “sensation-seeking”, which consists of four phenomena.

  1. "Thrill and adventure seeking":

    The addiction to (adrenaline) rushes and adventures.

  2. "Experience Seeking":

    The need to have new experiences. This includes, for example, smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol.

  3. "Disinhibition Seeking":

    The aim is to be loose and uninhibited, such as when on drugs.

  4. "Boredom Susceptibility":

    Children who are predisposed to boredom susceptibility, have a low tolerance for boredom.

According to a study by Zuckerman, a child enters the "sensation seeking" phase with about 9-14 years of age, and those are an overwhelming number of children who have a high level of adrenaline in the blood. This would also explain why boys are more likely to participate in dares.

Differential approach

The differential approach focuses on the question of why only certain individuals perform such risky acts and how they differ from those who do not.

For sure one of those factors is the so-called "sensation seeking". In addition, some young people are not capable of feeling strong emotions in their everyday life. Therefore, they seek stimulation. This is quite obvious in children who get bored quickly or suffer from hyperactivity.

Another group of children who are highly risk-bound are those who do not consider their actions carefully or do not act rationally. Those teenagers act mainly on their emotions. It is this impulsiveness that prevents them from assessing the situation properly and therefore they often do not even realise that they are in danger.

Dares are also relatively often committed by problem children who come from broken homes or are unable to cope with the demands of school. Those kids are likely to get caught up with the wrong crowd; people who encourage criminal activities to compensate for their lack of self-confidence. Also, their coping mechanisms are mostly underdeveloped.

Preventive measures, tips for prevention

One approach to prevention is information. It is advised that institutions such as school or youth groups inform young people of the dangers and how to assess danger correctly. This can start as early as in kindergarten. Suitable media clips and online brochures are other approaches reaching out to children during the risk taking age.

Idols play a special role in the lives of children. Rock- and movie stars are great mediums to point out the danger of dares further.

Generally, this information must also be transmitted from an emotional level and not just in the form of knowledge. This, for example, can be achieved by young people who fell victim to their own risk taking, and tell their stories. Another way would be a trip to a relevant rehabilitation centre or trauma clinic.

In addition, there is also the experiential educational approach. The objective with that approach is that a child has to express his needs for risk taking, however, let them do so in a controlled environment. An example of this controlled environment would be wall climbing, extreme sports and night walks.

Dares: walk across a rope bridge | ©:

Youth work specific dares

The subject of dares can be developed into a “series of topics” throughout the group sessions or in the classroom. Talking to children and young people who are already through a series of dares is important to give them the necessary developmental background of their behaviour. This means to explain to children, what is happing in their brains, when it comes to proving their courage or to do something extraordinary daring. Let them know in this moments their brain is switched off and why.

Besides the conversations, adventure-based measures are appropriate to satisfy the child’s need of experiencing their needs of taking risks. Following such measures, you can implement a feedback session.

Conversations about dares.

  • Group discussion on experiences with dares

    • What experiences have you already had with dares?
    • What attracts you to dares?
    • What dares do you know?
    • What would you do – what would you never do?
    • What would have to happen, that you would do it none the less?
    • What is going on in each f, when one is faced with the question: should I or not?
  • Why are the dangers are not recognised?

    • Overconfidence and little to no life experience
    • Easy to influence by "role models."
    • The psychosocial development is not yet ready to recognise risks for themselves and others
    • Psychological aspects

      • Bullying: who is being bullied to break out of this situation with a dare to be seen as a hero for once.
      • Wanting to fit in: who wants to be called a wimp or patsy? Particularly guys want to impress girls.
      • Being accepted, being part of: who does not conform is not part of … - the fear of exclusion and isolation.
      • Feelings of inferiority: inferiority feelings make you more susceptible to persuaded to a dare.
      • Easily seduced influenced: the unstable or naive the individual the easier it is for a child or adolescent to seduce to a dare. ....

Actions and Suggestions

As already mentioned above, experiential learning activities can help the individual to explore their abilities and limitations.

Fun, group and team spirit as well as thrills can be experienced in youth groups. Common experiences, coping and solving of tasks, but also “risky” tasks are part of every group session or -camp. For example, abseiling from a 50m high wall or balancing over a rope bridge at a dizzy height initially require courage and overcoming fear.

Here are some examples of such experiential learning activities

Dares, Games & Ideas

Perhaps, before you decide on a particular activity, you could sit with the kids and collect some ideas on what the kids would like to do. I am sure there will be quite some Dare ideas coming up. Since not all proposals will be suitable or useful, and others will not be possible at the time, you could select the best ideas.

  • Night walks; or walking on your own through the forest for 100 meters, walk alone from light A to B light.
  • A night alone in the forest
  • Holding a vigil
  • Abseiling or running across a rope bridge
  • Eating something indefinable (e.g. potatoes + Nutella + tomato + ...)
  • Singing a song in front of the group
  • Jumping from a 3m jumping board into the water.
  • Getting your makeup done by girl or boy.
  • Blindfolded touching something "indefinable, disgusting" (e.g. a slug, earthworm, goo, jelly, ...)
  • Games like

Always remember: no one is forced or persuaded to play a game. Only select games you would play yourself and only games and actions which are sound and safe.

[ © | 2000 Games and Ideas for Youth Work ] - 2000 Games and Ideas for Youth Work
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