Teenagers are notorious for engaging in reckless behavior, and probably have been doing so since humans first walked the earth. It wouldn’t be surprising to learn of prehistoric teens taunting wooly mammoths. However, the rise of social media has inadvertently elevated risk-taking, in the form of viral challenges. Participating in these dangerous viral challenges have led some teens to hospitalization, disfigurement, and even death.
Let’s explore why teens often get involved in these viral challenges, and how parents can protect their children from such risky activity.
Why Teens are Risk-Takers
In a previous post, we mentioned that the prefrontal cortex of the human brain isn’t fully developed until age 25. The prefrontal cortex is related to determining good judgment, rational thought, and considering long-term consequences. This fits typical teenage behavior to a T.
In addition, teens tend to have a strong desire to be socially accepted by their peers. They want to be considered cool or popular. Social media amplifies this feeling because it’s a public forum, used by millions of people around the world.
It’s not surprising then, that teenagers are willing to do unsafe activities in the name of social media recognition. Imagine the rush a teen gets when his or her challenge video gets hundreds of “likes” or “shares”.
Dangerous Viral Challenges
There have been many dangerous viral challenges over the years. Although some didn’t catch on and disappeared quickly, others became so popular that they were featured in the press.
Here are some examples of past dangerous viral challenges, in which teens have been seriously injured attempting them:
The latest trending viral challenge is the “Shell On Challenge”, which involves eating non-edible parts of food such as banana peels and watermelon rinds. At first glance, it doesn’t sound as bad as the previous examples. However, doctors have stressed that inedible food coverings are often unwashed and thus pose health risks. Furthermore, some participants have apparently taken the challenge a step further by eating food still in their plastic packaging, which poses a choking hazard.
The good news is that, as cringing as these videos may be, the Shell On Challenge is not as popular as it appears to be. As we pointed out in the Parents article, this has only appeared in a small number of search results among the millions of kids’ devices that we monitor day and night.
How to Protect Your Child from Dangerous Viral Challenges
As parents, it can be alarming to see teens injured or even killed from attempting these risky stunts for the sake of social media popularity. Here are some tips to keep your child safe from these online threats:
Keep abreast of viral challenges by following popular parenting websites and blogs, and the news. Consider setting a Google alert. However, it’s important to keep an open, skeptical mind when reading such articles. Sometimes “viral challenges” are merely composed of one or two videos of bored teens and nothing more. Other times it may be nothing more than an urban legend such as the Momo challenge.
Talk to your kids about dangerous viral challenges. Ask them which ones they’ve seen or heard of, and discuss what the consequences may be should someone fail the challenge.
Keep an eye on what your kids are looking at online. If you have the Hub by Securly, you can see your kids’ search results and what websites they’ve visited, with our real-time activity feed. You can even restrict YouTube so they can avoid watching these videos altogether.
Not All Viral Challenges are Dangerous
If your teens still want to experience a taste of social media glory, encourage them to instead participate in fun or funny viral challenges. There are countless ones out there such as the Whisper Challenge, Bean Boozled Challenge, or What the Fluff Challenge. None of these will result in bodily injury.
Some viral challenges are actually charitable, such as the super-popular ALS Ice Bucket Challenge from a few years ago. More recently, there’s the Trashtag Challenge, in which people clean up garbage in an outdoor location like a beach or park.