Viral social media challenges have ended and damaged lives. Most recently, a young girl in Italy died after engaging in a TikTok challenge called ‘Blackout.’ Driven by the desire for likes and clicks, viral games and stories on social media have resulted in hospitalizations, attempted murder, and even death.
Do you really know what your kids are doing online?
Though the internet is an incredibly useful tool that can help with homework and connecting with people across the world, there’s no doubt that it also has a dark side. Especially as the number of social media sites continues to grow, so do the challenges, games and urban legends that have resulted in terrible situations.
The most recent viral “game” is called the “blackout challenge,” and it encourages children and teenagers to choke themselves, sometimes using household objects, until they pass out. In Italy, a 10-year-old girl died after engaging in the challenge. It was her 5-year-old sister who found her with her cellphone, undoubtedly trying to get the perfect shot for her awaiting social media audience.
“We didn’t know anything,” the girl’s father told Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper.
“We didn’t know she was participating in this game. We knew that [our daughter] went on TikTok for dances, to look at videos. How could I imagine this atrocity?” he said.
Joshua Haileyesus of Colorado also tried the so-called “blackout challenge.” The 12-year-old was apparently scrolling through social media when he saw the challenge. His brother is the one who found him. Joshua remains on life-support and has yet to regain consciousness.
According to his parents, Joshua had been very engaged in social media, and through the connections gained a passion for “cooking, guitar and acting.”
“This is something that kids need to be given, to be taught, to be counseled. Because this is a serious a serious thing,” his father Haileyesus Zeryihun said. “It’s not a joke at all. And you can treat it as if somebody is holding a gun. This is how dangerous this is.”
Sadly, these are not isolated incidents.
Similar choking challenges have been around for years, even before social media seemingly took over our lives.
Time Magazine reported in 2018 that “82 children between the ages of 6 and 19 died after playing the Choking Game between 1995 and 2007.” This trend has not slowed down, especially as social media has grown. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 1,400 children and teens died from accidental hanging and strangulation between 2000 to 2015.
At one point, there were 36 million results on YouTube about “how to play the pass out game,” but there are 1.4 billion results when you put the search term into Google.
Children and teens play this game in order to achieve a temporary high, by strangling themselves until they pass out and getting a euphoria feeling after the choking instrument is released and they can breathe again. These games are highly risky in a group situation, but often become fatal accidents if someone decides to do it on their own.
This game, again, has been around for a while—in a blog on Children’s Hospital Los Angeles website, RN Gloria Verret recalls a similar game when she was a kid, where “girls would intentionally hyperventilate, then someone behind them would give a strong hug around the abdomen causing a momentary dizzy spell.”
The choking game is one of the most popular, but not the only viral internet sensation with potentially deadly results.
In 2014, two preteen girls attempted to stab their friend to death after taking inspiration from an internet-created character called the Slender Man. Thankfully, the young girl survived the attack.
There’s also the Tide detergent pod challenge, when videos emerged of kids and teens on social media making the dangerous decision to bite into the highly toxic liquid laundry detergent packets and ingest some of the contents. One college student researching the dangers of the packets ended up in the hospital after devouring them.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports that there were 220 teens exposed to the contents of the packets in 2017, about 25% of the cases were intentional.
There’s also the exceptionally creepy Momo challenge, where children and young teens were encouraged to text a number to WhatsApp where they then receive a series of various “bizarre and dangerous tasks from watching a horror movie to engaging in self-harm to taking their own lives.” The challenge is noted for using a rather horrifying sculpture featuring a bug-eyed-looking woman with matted hair, designed by a Japanese company that produces horror movie props.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that these risky and potentially life-threatening online games and urban legends will stop anytime soon. That’s why it’s important to safeguard your children as best as you can from these destructive influences.
Dr. Danny Huerta, vice president of Focus on the Family’s Parenting Department, shares some helpful advice for parents about how to navigate this new reality.
“Throughout more than two decades of working with teens and their families, I have found that teens have three core desires pulling at their decision-making. The first and very strong desire is to belong. The second and very powerful desire is to have a sense of worth. The third desire is to feel a sense of competence. In other words, teens want to feel connected, wanted and good at something to gain admiration, and social media is one way teens consistently try to satisfy these core desires.
“A few ways to proactively and practically safeguard your children are: prayer, consideration of social media access, awareness, response and having ongoing conversations with your kids about trends and interests.
“As a family, you can participate in LiveIt challenges instead (www.bringyouribible.org/liveit). Challenges provide a way to feel a sense of belonging, worth, and competence. Although risks and challenges can be negative, risk-taking and the desire for challenges are a normal developmental reality for teens. As a family, take some time to discuss and explore healthy risks and challenges.”
Dr. Huerta has written a guide, 7 Traits of Effective Parenting, which you can find here.
Focus on the Family Parenting – https://www.focusonthefamily.com/resources-parenting/
Plugged In Parent’s Guide to Today’s Technology – https://www.pluggedin.com/tech-guide/
Protect Your Kids from Negative Influences – https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/protect-your-kids-from-negative-influences/
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