DA op-ed: 13 online challenges you should know about

By: | March 12, 2019
To help keep students safe when viewing or considering challenges, educators and parents should talk with and get students to think, acknowledge peer pressure and stay (somewhat) up to date.To help keep students safe when viewing or considering challenges, educators and parents should talk with and get students to think, acknowledge peer pressure and stay (somewhat) up to date.

It’s a tale as old as time: We see a lot of people wearing or doing or saying something, and we want to try it, too. Back in the day, it was saying “Bloody Mary” into a mirror at slumber parties. Today, it means viral social media stunts. Though adults get caught up, too, kids are especially susceptible to peer pressure and fear of missing out. To them, what was once a double-dog dare is now a popular YouTuber eating a hot pepper just to see what happens.

Called “challenges,” these stunts range from harmless to horrifying. There are the silly ones (such as the Mannequin Challenge); the helpful ones (such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge); and the slightly risky ones (such as the Make Your Own Slime Challenge). But sometimes, challenges are downright dangerous, resulting in physical injury—and possibly even death (the Momo Challenge is reported to be in this category). So what’s a parent to do?

Below are some of the hottest challenges that have swept social media; some fade and then make a comeback. In most cases, kids are watching these challenges on YouTube purely for entertainment, but some challenges inspire kids to try them out themselves. (In fact, the safe ones can be fun for families to try.) Others—like the Backpack Challenge—are often done with the goal of filming other kids and broadcasting the results online. While there could be a new one as soon as tomorrow, they do seem to fall into certain categories.

Frightening challenges

  • Momo Challenge: This frightening social media challenge appears with an unforgettable, horrifying picture of a statue of a bird (that looks like a girl), and allegedly encourages kids to perform increasingly risky and harmful tasks, including hurting themselves. It can pop up in a variety of places, but it seems to center around WhatsApp, in which a user is sent a link to click on. It’s not new, but it resurfaces occasionally. Though some articles mention reports of kids actually harming or killing themselves as a result of the challenge, they are unsubstantiated. Some reports indicate that it’s actually a way for hackers to get access to devices, which poses a whole separate set of risks.
  • Choking or Fainting or Pass-out Challenge: To get a high or faint, kids either choke other kids, press hard on their chests or hyperventilate. Obviously, this is very risky, and it has resulted in death.
  • Tide Pod Challenge: Biting into a pod of laundry detergent is clearly not a good idea, but kids are doing it and posting videos of the results. Because the outside coating of the pods is meant to dissolve, the pods release their contents into kids’ mouths very quickly and cause chemical burns and kidney and lung problems.
  • Blue Whale Challenge: Though some challenges are physically dangerous, this one truly frightens parents. Over the course of 50 days, an anonymous “administrator” assigns self-harm tasks, such as cutting, until the 50th day when the participant is supposed to commit suicide. It is rumored to have begun in Russia, and there were reports that suicides were tied to the trend, but those are unverified and likely not true. Apps related to the Blue Whale Challenge were said to appear and were then removed. The biggest concern is teens who are at risk and may be susceptible to trends and media about suicide, because even if the challenge began as an isolated incident or hoax, it could become real.

Funny challenges

  • Try Not to Laugh Challenge: Popularized by YouTubers, including Markiplier, this trend involves watching short, funny videos and trying not to laugh. It’s simple and harmless, though there’s often a lot of laughing at others’ expense.
  • Whisper Challenge: You may have seen this one on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show. One person wears headphones and plays loud music. The other person says a phrase aloud, and the one listening to music tries to read their lips and repeat the phrase. Hilarity ensues.
  • Mannequin Challenge: A group of people gets together, poses and freezes in place, and someone with a camera walks around recording the scene while music plays. Even celebrities have gotten in on this one, including Michelle Obama, Ellen and Adele.

Food challenges

  • Eat It or Wear It Challenge: This one takes some prep. Put some different foods in separate bags and number the bags. A player chooses a number, checks out the food, and decides to eat it or wear it. If they eat it, they can dump the remainder on another player’s head. If they choose to wear it … you can guess what happens. Other than a huge mess (and food allergies), this one is low risk.
  • Hot-pepper Challenge: You can probably guess this one. Eat a super hot pepper—such as a habanero or a ghost pepper—while you film yourself suffering and chugging milk to try to stop the burning. Though most people get through it unscathed, there have been a few reports of people ending up at the hospital.
  • Cinnamon Challenge: Eat a spoonful of cinnamon, sputter and choke, and record the whole thing for others to enjoy. Again, though there may be some temporary discomfort, most kids won’t get hurt—but some have.

Physical challenges

  • Bottle-Flipping Challenge: Partly fill a plastic water bottle and toss it in such a way that it lands right-side up. This one got so popular that they made apps to replicate the experience!
  • Backpack Challenge: In this challenge, one person runs between two rows of people who try to hit the runner with heavy backpacks. The goal is to make it to the end without falling down—but no one ever does. Of course, it’s easy for kids to get hurt doing this.
  • Kylie Lip Challenge: Oh, Kylie Jenner—and her lips. In an effort to replicate them, kids put a shot glass over their mouths, suck in and make their lips swell artificially. Not only can it cause damage, but it can also be an indicator of body insecurities and the emulation of impossible beauty standards.

What you can do about it

  • Talk. Though we can’t always prevent dangerous behavior, our words can really stay with kids. Explain the potential dangers or consequences, and invite them to come to you with questions or concerns.
  • Get them to think. Help students think through the challenges—whether they’re safe or have potential risks. Walk through each step with them, and figure out where things could go wrong.
  • Acknowledge peer pressure. Today’s kids think of internet personalities as their peers, so seeing kids on YouTube doing a challenge could influence students. Say, “Why do you want to do this? Is this a video of yourself that you really want out in the world?”
  • Stay (somewhat) up to date. Ask students what’s happening in their lives when they’re not distracted—even when it seems like they don’t want you to. Sometimes, kids are more willing to talk about what’s going on with other kids than with themselves, so pose questions about friends, school and trends. Once the conversation is open, you can get a sense of what students think about the latest craze. Keep an open mind, and intervene if you’re concerned. Say, “Would you consider doing a viral stunt if someone asked you? Which ones would you do and not do?”

Former teacher Christine Elgersma is a senior editor at Common Sense Media. She keeps her finger on the pulse of exceptional educational apps and social media trends.

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