For today’s digital generation, social media allows your children to easily connect to their friends and family. Social media challenges have become a popular way for children, especially teenagers, to engage with their peers. Some challenges promote causes or unity, like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or Mannequin Challenge. Unfortunately, dangerous social media challenges have developed, leading children to harm themselves or others due to negative influences or for “likes” and attention. As parents, you should be aware of the top dangerous social media challenges in order to best protect your children.
Six Social Media Challenges to Avoid
Going viral on TikTok, the Outlet Challenge is catching the attention of firefighters. Akin to sticking a fork in a wall socket, the challenge involves children partially plugging a phone charger into an outlet and sliding a penny down the wall, so it comes into contact with the exposed prongs. As a result, sparks are ignited, damaging the electrical system and leading to a house fire or electrocution.
Stranger danger has always been prevalent on social media. Coined as a “suicide game,” the Momo Challenge allegedly utilized social media channels and WhatsApp to encourage children to perform self-harm in early 2019. Some speculate that the Momo challenge was a hoax to lure children into searching for violent material online or stoke the fears and moral panic in parents. According to lore, after texting a number in the app, children received instructions to perform a series of tasks that mirror horror movies—including self-harm, violent attacks, or suicide-related activities. Children believed they must complete these tasks or Momo would kill them. In 2018, it was reported that two teenagers from Colombia took their own lives because of this challenge. Whether or not the challenge was a hoax, it was enough to spook parents who may have remembered the Slender Man internet lore.
The Choking Game has taken the lives of children for over two decades. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 82 U.S. youths perished between 1995 and 2007 after participating in this deadly game. This challenge involves cutting off oxygen with a belt, rope, or arm pressure. The purpose of the game is to create a sense of euphoria and cause a temporary loss of consciousness. Depriving the brain of oxygen may lead to severe brain cell damage that can affect short-term memory and the ability to concentrate. A surge on social media in 2007 resulted in 79,000 Ontario students participating in the Choking Challenge, and 72 students were sent to the hospital.
Tide Pod Challenge
The Tide Pod Challenge encourages children to post videos of themselves eating Tide Pods. Some even cook the detergent before consumption. This arose from an internet meme on Straight Dope Forum, daring people to consume Tide Pods to “eat clean.” According to the Poison Control Center, there is a record of 12,000 cases of ingesting laundry detergent pods in 2017. Consumer Reports noted that swallowing detergent pods may lead to an “upset stomach…excessive vomiting, lethargy…gasping…[and] stopped breathing.” Furthermore, this challenge can damage victims’ airways and burn their throats.
Salt and Ice Challenge
In the Salt and Ice Challenge, children place salt on an exposed area of their skin and hold ice over it for as long as possible. The goal is to see who can withstand the burning sensation the longest. Unfortunately, mixing salt and ice drops the temperature as low as 0 degrees. As a result, children have received second- and third-degree burns, skin grafts, or skin discoloration.
The Cinnamon Challenge became popular on the UK reality television show, Big Brother. It peaked in 2012 when Twitter tweeted the challenge nearly 70,000 times per day. Participants digest a spoonful of ground cinnamon and do not have water for 60 seconds. This stunt can cause immediate choking or gagging on cinnamon. Accidentally inhaling cinnamon can lead to severe lung damage. For example, a Michigan high school student was hospitalized for four days after attempting the Cinnamon Challenge. She suffered from a collapsed right lung and an infection.
How to Prevent Your Children from Trying Dangerous Social Media Challenges
One practical tip to prevent your children from participating in social media challenges is to add them as your friend on all of their digital platforms, including their alternative accounts that they might not be upfront about. Be sure to watch his or her social media activity—who they follow, what type of content they post, etc. Moreover, it is essential to keep the line of communication open. Ask your child about their friends, school, activities, and social media trends. Depending on your child’s risk level, it may be best to speak with him or her directly about the specific dangers of social media challenges.
As a parent in the digital age, it’s imperative to be aware of the viral trends on social media. Educate yourself and your child on the healthy role social media should play in one’s life, as well as the life-long consequences of participating in the challenges. There are some positive ways that teachers and parents can encourage their children to participate in social media. In addition to being aware of what students are being exposed to online, joining social media provides teachers with the benefit of building their professional network.