Why Can’t Kids Resist Dares?

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My children are not short for cash. They get allowance every month, occasional birthday and holiday checks from distant relatives and, lately, have started doing extra chores for money (our porch and car have never looked cleaner). So why, then, did my nine-year-old agree to eat a Caribbean hot pepper for $7.50, a sum apparently arrived at after bargaining that would have made a 47th Street diamond dealer proud?


Maybe because he’s nine, he’s one part adventurer/two parts showman, and he had no clue what he was in for, which was more than an hour of burning pain in his throat, mouth and on his lips interrupted only by vomiting and temporary relief from the soothing effect of having Faje Greek yogurt smeared on his face (works like a charm and thick enough not to drip down his chin). And mostly because there are few things he can tolerate less than losing a competition to his older brother, the genius who thought up the dare.


If there were any upsides to this incident, they were this. The boys learned a lesson, and the drama (or trauma) cleared the air of the stifling sibling rivalry that has been darkening our home like a toxic cloud. My younger son’s pain was exceeded only by his humiliation for accepting the challenge. Without any prompting, he told me “I think I just learned that it’s really stupid to do stupid things for money.” (”Stupid things, period,” I refrained from saying.) My older son was frightened by the whole thing and upped the “reward” by giving his younger brother a $10 bill. They both agreed “no more dares, no more bets” and, for a while, they were actually quite nice to each other.


Out to dinner that night, my husband and I ran into friends who told us a story we made sure to recount to our boys the next day. A seventh grade boy in town, apparently eager to impress a “cool” crowd of kids, accepted a dare to eat two earthworms. Having eaten them and survived, he is now not only still not part of the in crowd, but is an object of scorn and pity among not only the boys he tried to impress but everyone—the entire Middle School—they spread the story to.


The Caribbean hot pepper incident of 2009 is destined to become an oft-repeated family story, especially if my pepper-singed child maintains his vow never again to eat anything spicy. He can laugh about the incident now, but I hope that the lesson will stick, and that when the pressure is on, not from his brother but from his peers—to eat a worm or try that Quaalude or egg that house or smash that window—he will use better judgment than he did when he was nine.

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