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13 Online Challenges and Stunts Your Child Could Be Hiding From You
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  • It's a tale as old as time: we see a lot of people wearing/doing/saying something, and we want to try it. From simple phrases you need to say in front of a mirror, parents now have to deal with viral social media stunts. Just recently, the alarming "Momo challenge" has taken over the Internet with concerned parties sharing videos and articles to warn others about it. It’s important to note that kids are susceptible to peer pressure and FOMO (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.

    These stunts, called "challenges," range from harmless to horrifying: there are the funny ones such as the Mannequin Challenge; the helpful ones like 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 like the Momo challenge is reported to be (learn more about it here). So what's a parent to do?

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    Know the online challenges your kids are watching

    To help you guide your kids, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the challenges that have swept social media. While some of these are old, it’s possible that a few make a comeback (the Momo challenge has been around since August of 2018). Most of the time 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. 

    Take note of the different categories of online challengs and how you can handle situations when your own kids are thinking of trying one.

    Funny challenges

    Try Not to Laugh Challenge. Popularized by YouTubers like 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.

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    Whisper Challenge. You may have seen this one on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon. One person wears headphones playing loud music. The other person says a phrase out loud, and the one listening to music tries to read their lips and repeat the phrase. Hilarity ensues.

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    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.

    Food-related challenges

    Eat It or Wear It Challenge. This one takes some prep: put some different foods in separate bags and number them. 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 possible food allergies), this one is a low-risk.

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    Hot-Pepper Challenge. You can probably guess: eat a super hot pepper — like a habanero or a ghost pepper — while you film yourself suffering and chugging milk to try to stop the burning. Word of caution: some get through it, but there have been reports of people ending up at the hospital.

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    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 they made apps to replicate the experience!

    Backpack Challenge. This one's a little like running a gauntlet. One person runs between two rows of people who try to hit you with heavy backpacks. The goal is to make it to the end without falling down … but no one ever does. It's easy for kids to get hurt doing this.

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    Kylie Lip Challenge. In an effort to replicate Kylie Jenner’s famous lips, kids would put a shot glass over their mouths, suck in, and make their lips swell artificially. Not only can it cause damage, but it also can be an indicator of body insecurities and the emulation of impossible beauty standards.

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    Frightening and alarming 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 seems to center around Whatsapp, where a user is sent a link to click on. It's not new but 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 it's actually a way for hackers to get access to devices, which poses a whole separate set of risks. (SmartParenting.com.ph published an article about how this challenge serves as a reminder for families to examine their online habits.)

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    Choking/Fainting/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, they release their contents into a kid's mouth very quickly and cause chemical burns and kidney and lung problems.

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    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, like 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.

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    What you can do when your kids are considering trying these challenges

    Talk about the online challenge with your kid

    Though we can't always be with our kids to prevent dangerous behavior, our words really can stay with them. Say, "If you ever want to do an internet challenge, check with me first."

    Get your child to think

    Help your kid think through the challenges and whether they're safe or have potential risks. Say, "Walk through each step 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 your kid. Say, "Why do you want to do this? Is this a video of yourself that you really want out in the world?"

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    Stay (somewhat) up to date

    Ask your kid about 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 your kid thinks about the latest craze  and if they're safe. 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?"

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    Model responsible online habits

    Some parents are the ones recording their kids taking these challenges, so make sure your involvement sends the message you intend. Today it might be harmless, but tomorrow it might be more dangerous. Help your kids make the distinction so they can stay safe. Say, "Let's do a funny challenge together, but we'll only film it if you want to, and we'll only share it with family."

    Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out its ratings and recommendations at www.commonsense.org and sign up for its newsletter to read more articles like this.

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