Image: Parent Zone
Words: Lucy Doyle
The growth of social media has brought with it some strange modern phenomena. One of the more recent ones is the viral online challenge.
These are often harmless, generally silly dares that teenagers (and others) are drawn to doing with or without the influence of the internet.
Adding social media platforms to the mix enables them to share the videos and pictures of them performing dares to a greater audience, upping the thrill factor and potential for gaining respect, likes and followers, making it even more tempting to get involved.
It’s good to give
Charities have harnessed the power of social media and people’s natural desire to feel a part of something by setting up various campaigns which involve completing challenges or dares.
The Ice Bucket Challenge raised money for motor neurone disease charities, no-make up selfies supported cancer research and the ever-popular Movember – growing weird and wonderful facial hair for men’s causes – takes place each year to support men’s health issues.
Although some have questioned people’s real motives when getting involved in some of these campaigns (some have dismissed it as vanity, highlighting the fact that common etiquette is to donate discreetly or anonymously ), these are still clearly very effective ways of raising money for a good cause. But, this popular culture of taking on challenges and documenting them on social media has also had much less positive outcomes.
The darker side of viral challenges and dares on social media
Although some are fun and harmless, others have caused injury.
Here are some examples of recent viral internet trends:
Viral online challenges
The duct tape challenge has recently gained popularity online, with a YouTube search yielding around 244,000 results (Jan '16). It involves wrapping a willing victim in duct tape, and challenging them to escape their binds within a set amount of time - usually about 5 minutes. Although wrapping and escaping from duct tape isn't too dangerous in itself, accidents can happen - one boy was left with a serious head injury after losing balance and falling while attempting it in January 2016.
The condom challenge rocketed in popularity towards the end of 2015. The bizarre internet trend involved filling a condom with water to create a water balloon. A friend then dropped the water balloon (usually from a decent height) onto someone’s head. It would either explode, or most often, mould itself over the head and squash the face (not a good look). As far as we know, there haven’t been any reported injuries yet, but there’s a risk of suffocation and drowning if the person doing it inhales too much water.
The cinnamon challenge involved eating a spoonful of cinnamon and filming the consumer’s reaction. The majority of people doing this dare are fine, there have been reports of it causing asthma attacks and other respiratory problems.
In 2014 the neknomination trend was linked to five deaths and several hospitalisations in the UK and Ireland after young people (mostly between the ages of 19 to 25) drank huge amounts of various alcoholic and other beverages. One man died after drinking 2 pints of gin in his ‘neknomination’ video. Facebook resisted calls to ban the neknomination videos from the site.
The ‘Charlie Charlie’ challenge  involved taking two pencils, crossing one on top of the other, and asking ‘Charlie’ questions – the pencil spins one way for yes, and the other way for no. It’s essentially a Ouija board using school stationery. It originated in Latin America and videos of it online enabled it to travel to English speaking countries too. It recently spread to UK schools and has been banned in some primary schools as it was frightening younger pupils.
The salt and ice challenge gained traction back in 2012 and has been a popular teen dare ever since. The idea is to sprinkle salt on your skin, then stick an ice cube to it. The salt lowers the freezing temperature of the ice and absorbs heat from the environment and the skin as it melts. As a result, the skin temperature drops far more than with ice alone. This can quickly cause injuries similar to frostbite, and sometimes permanent scarring.
Kylie Jenner challenge. Participants put a shot glass around their lips and suck, leaving it there for a few seconds. The negative pressure from the suction leaves their lips swollen and supposedly, just like Kylie Jenner’s. Medical professionals have advised that doing this for 15-30 seconds should have mild and temporary effects, but longer than this can cause bruising and longer term damage.
Other dares have involved filming participants setting themselves on fire, eating hot chillies, or consuming huge amounts of food (the main aim being not to vomit).
There are also some websites that specifically cater to people looking for dares. The incentive to gain points can cause children to take bigger risks than they would normally.
Members can request a dare - most ask for video or photo evidence of it - which other members can choose to do.
There was some really worrying content on one of these sites – such as members requesting people to streak naked, but specifically requesting that they must be between the ages of 8 and 12 years old.
Unlike in real life, dares on these sites don’t just come from friends, who probably care about your child, but from anyone who happens to be online. Many of these sites exist and there are thousands of silly dares doing the rounds, other than the most popular ones that go viral.
It’s important to remind your children that they don’t know the identity of the person daring them, and so they don’t know who will see the film or photo they post. This might also be a good time to speak to them about their digital footprint and that once they’ve posted any photo or video online, they’ve lost control over it.
It’s difficult to stop your child getting involved in pranks and dares online, so it’s really important to make them aware of the boundary between a fun, harmless risk, and a more inappropriate and dangerous one.
• Talk to them about pranks and dares. Ask them what they think about them and whether they’ve ever been tempted to get involved.
• Remind them that they are in control. They don’t have to do anything they don’t want to, even if peers tease them for not doing it. Often, what may seem important at the time really isn’t in the long run.
• Suggest they take a step back before agreeing to a dare and to ask themselves if the risk they’re taking is sensible.
• Encourage them not to pass on dares and explain how that can lead to vulnerable young people taking unwise risks.
• It’s difficult to stop teens from getting involved in some online challenges, so if they do decide to get involved, ask them to make sure they do it with other friends around that they trust, so if something does go wrong, their friends will be there to help them.
 Blogger Yomi Adegoke said: "Thinly veiling vanity as philanthropy more than irks … the pretence these images are for anything other than an onslaught of 'natural beauty' acclamations, coupled with pats on the back for 'fighting the cause' makes the no makeup selfie mania even harder to stomach."