Every so often a new Internet fad will sweep social media and encourage kids to film themselves doing everything from dancing to swallowing spoonfuls of cinnamon. However, aside from being dumb, some of these online "challenges" can potentially be harmful and even lead to death. Earlier this year, American teens started participating in the Blue Whale Challenge, a game that encourages users to commit suicide and is tied to the death of at least 80 teens in Russia. And now an Australian family’s story shows us another example of how prevalent and dangerous these viral videos can be.
Earlier this month, Cath Matar had to take her son Leo to the hospital for emergency stitches after an accident he sustained attempting what she calls the “How to Pass Out Safely” challenge.
The 10-year-old came across the challenge in an instructional YouTube video. After performing it and passing out, he fell down and cracked his head on his bedroom dresser. His mother found him covered in blood.
“I was luckily cleaning the office right beside his closed bedroom door when I head a huge ‘bang’ and threw the door open to [find] Leo crying on the floor and noticed blood running down the back of his neck,” writes Cath in a Facebook post. The injury required five double stitches and a compression bandage to prevent infection.
In an interview with Kidspot, Cath says that she had talked to Leo and her other children about dangerous viral challenges.
"I talked to them about the cinnamon challenge and the ice challenge, and all the other challenges where kids use strange items to hurt themselves,” Cath said. “I told them they should never put something on their skin, or in their mouths to copy what they’d seen online.”
She says that the name of the challenge and video misled Leo.
“He said that because it said ‘safely’ in the title, he knew that it wasn’t real and nothing bad could happen to him,” Cath said. “That’s what really scared me, because I realized that it is absolutely logical for a 10-year-old to have that kind of reasoning.”
Fortunately, the head injury was the only damage Leo sustained from this challenge. Here’s what parents need to know to prevent their children from participating and having similar accidents:
The Challenge is Common on the Internet
While it is possible Leo was watching a recent video, this type of challenge has existed on the Internet in some form for years. There are scores of videos online of teenagers and children attempting it and explaining how to make yourself pass out. Some videos even encourage others to try it out for themselves.
It’s Incredibly Easy to View
Since all of these videos are widely available on social media, it's incredibly easy for children to watch them—even if they weren’t looking them up. Cath says her son was trying to find videos of magic tricks and science experiments when one popped up.
“Due to my warnings he didn't bother looking for or at [viral challenge videos] anymore, but when something deadly masks itself among other sites that are educational and harmless, no child is immune from exposure to them."
The Danger is Real
Even though Leo and others may be tricked into thinking they can safely pass out, the challenge is extremely dangerous. A 2008 study from the Center of Disease Control found that 82 children had recently died in the United State from playing “choking games.”
In an interview with Café Mom, Cath said that doctors at the hospital had recently seen two other boys die after trying the challenge.
"The medical team told me about the tragic passing of a 13-year-old boy who literally went to school only a kilometer from where we live and died just after Christmas last year after attempting this challenge," she said. "He went hypoxic and never regained consciousness. Another 14-year-old boy ended up in emergency surgery and also passed away after he did one of these challenges and ended up cracking his skull open."
Cath said that she wants her son’s accident to serve as a warning to other parents about this potentially-deadly challenge. "I hope that our unpleasant, though very lucky in hindsight, experience will educate moms, dads and caregivers about the insidious and latent dangers of the Internet.”
She also encourages parents to have a conversation with their children and explain the dangers of participating in risky online activities.
“Talk to your kids, let them know these kinds of risks and make sure they feel comfortable coming to you and talking about these things before they jump in and give it a go.”