Dangerous online challenges are never funny

eSafety is aware that a dangerous new challenge doing the rounds on social media is putting the safety of young people at risk.

Kids are encouraged to trip an unsuspecting friend or classmate in a specific way that makes them slam against the ground. The potential for brain and spinal damage is high and there are already reports of serious injuries and possibly one death overseas.

Other challenges cause the participant to pass out, sometimes from self-inflicted violence.

What makes these challenges even more dangerous is that videos of them are being live-streamed or posted on the popular TikTok app and shared elsewhere on the internet.

So they are spreading to a very large and impressionable audience, in an increasingly competitive online environment where young people are anxious to take part in the latest fad or tell others about it while it’s still trending.

The potential harms are not just physical, they are also psychological – being pranked in front of an infinite audience can cause long-term damage to the self-esteem and confidence of the victim.

And any challenge that invites people to laugh at others being harmed or humiliated discourages empathy – not just in those who carry out it out, but in everyone who likes or shares the video.

What can be done?

TikTok has advised eSafety that dangerous challenges violate its Community Guidelines and it removes the videos when they are reported.

But these are not the first dangerous online challenges and they won’t be the last, so parents and educators need to be aware that they can play a role in minimising the potential impacts.

It’s a difficult issue to deal with, because warning a young person about risky behaviour can actually tempt them to try it out, especially once they learn it’s popular online. So eSafety encourages a careful approach, underpinned by general conversations about online safety issues.

When a challenge is circulating online

  • Keep a close eye on particularly vulnerable children, to ensure they are not targeted.  
  • Do not introduce the idea or the name of a specific challenge or risk-taking behaviour if young people are not already aware of it.
  • If young people are aware of a dangerous challenge, talk about how bad the injuries could be and ask how they would feel if they were pranked and it was shared online.
  • Remind them that respect and empathy for others is far more important than getting laughs, likes or followers.
  • Do not show them any videos of a dangerous challenge, even to warn them about how risky it is.
  • Advise them not to view or share videos of the challenge themselves.
  • Encourage them to report any videos of the challenge to the apps or services where they were posted – the eSafety Guide has a list of links they can use.

Arming young people with early guidance

  • Focus on developing the critical reasoning skills of young people, encouraging them to question what they see online even if their friends don’t.
  • Let them know that they should always be careful of other people’s safety and feelings, particularly if they see something dangerous online.
  • Ask questions about the games and apps they are using and what they are watching online.
  • Ask open-ended questions in a non-judgmental way about risk-taking behaviour and use it as an opportunity to talk about the issues – parents might like to have the conversation shoulder-to-shoulder instead of face-to-face to make it less awkward, while driving in the car or doing something else together.

You can find more advice and tips for helping young people at the parents and educators pages of our online safety hub.