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There is a new, potentially lethal, challenge going viral on social media called the Skullbreaker Challenge. Make sure you know how to protect your tweens and teens.

What are challenges?

Challenges are online dares. They may be physical in nature, such as requiring people to dump a bucket full of ice on their heads (the Ice Bucket Challenge). They may require participants to ingest something like a tablespoon of cinnamon (the Cinnamon Challenge). Or, they may require the participant to break some sort of social norm (the Elevator Challenge). The list of possibilities is limited only to the imagination.

Dares have existed at schools and on playgrounds for a long time; but, unlike the dares we grew up with, social media has given the creators and propagators of these new dares the ability to spread their content quickly and widely. It has given the participants the opportunity to gain exposure creating the very compelling lures of both notoriety and praise from peers.

These dynamics can be very beneficial when the challenges contribute positively to society, like a number of challenges initiated by nonprofits or philanthropic organizations (we even have our own), but, the mix of social media and challenges becomes toxic when the challenges are intended to be mean-spirited or dangerous. In fact, many of these challenges go viral specifically because the content they produce shows injury or serious cruelty.

What is the Skullbreaker challenge?

The Skullbreaker Challenge involves tricking a person into believing that they are competing in a contest to see who can jump higher. Three people then line up in a row. The person in the middle, who believes that he or she is competing in the jumping contest, jumps up, and then the two people on the outside kick the person’s feet out from underneath, so the jumper falls on their back or head.

Clearly dangerous, this challenge has already resulted in some serious injuries. Here is an article with more details and video on the Skullbreaker Challenge.

How to Protect Your Family

There is some anecdotal evidence at the moment that well-meaning parents and educators are contributing to the virality of the Skullbreaker challenge by sharing information on it with teens. We have decided that this challenge has already received enough publicity and has gone sufficiently viral for us to responsibility share information on it. But, please carefully consider whether and how you discuss the specifics of this challenge or any potentially dangerous challenge with your children or students.

In fact, new challenges are going viral on a regular basis these days. You cannot ensure your child’s safety by discussing each challenge individually as it arises. Instead, consider having conversations with your child about challenges in general, especially when he or she first starts using social media.

Since not all challenges are harmful, and, in fact, some are quite beneficial, an outright ban on challenges will be overbroad. Rather, our children need to practice understanding and identifying, as they encounter challenges, what the objective of any given challenge is. One big clue as to the appropriateness and safety of a challenge will be in understanding why it has gone viral.

Consider reviewing with your children the following possible questions for them to ask themselves whenever they encounter a challenge on social media:

  1. Is this challenge a prank or joke at someone else’s expense?
  2. Is the challenge potentially dangerous?
    • Does this challenge involve ingesting anything?
    • Does this challenge involve taking a physical risk (heights, vehicles, weapons, obstructing an airway)?
    • Does this challenge involve using any store-bought item or chemical in a way that was not intended?
  3. Does this challenge break the law or a rule? Is it dishonest or unethical?

If the answer to any of these simple questions is yes, your child needs to pass on participating and discourage his or her friends from doing so as well.

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