Updated: Feb 11, 2021
Last month, a 10-year-old girl died after participating in the "Blackout Challenge," which she apparently learned about on the social media platform TikTok. The young girl, who lived in Italy, was found unconscious in her bathroom by her five-year-old sister. According to Parentology, the girl was rushed to the hospital, where she went into cardiac arrest and died the next day.
This “Blackout Challenge” encourages participants to try to make themselves pass out by restricting their airflow. Evidently the girl who died had tied a belt around her neck in an effort to attempt the challenge.
Sadly, this is not the first time the “Blackout Challenge” ended in tragedy. Newsweek reports that between 1995 and 2007, 82 children between the ages of six and 19 have died in the U.S. after playing this game and its variations, like the “Choking Game.” There’s also the “Pass Out Challenge” that encourages participants to shake their heads until they eventually pass out.
If you are shaking your head in disbelief, so are we. That’s why our upcoming CyberWise Chat on Feb. 16 will tackle the question: Why do kids love TikTok challenges? At Cyberwise, we have learned about many of these challenges via Parentology, so we're excited to be hosting Editor-in-Chief Richard Andreoli for this chat in which Dr. Pamela Rutledge of the Media Psychology Research and I will help you understand the psychological draw of these viral events.
So What Is a TikTok Challenge?
In case you don’t already know, TikTok is one of the most downloaded apps in the world and extremely popular with teens. Many use it to simply record themselves dancing and lip-syncing to popular songs, which they then edit and post on the app (see our TikTok Hub to learn more). More than 500 million people use TikTok, and as it grows in popularity, so do the ways it is used.
Recently, all sorts of “challenges” have become popular on the app. Here is how these challenges usually work: a TikTok user or group of users make a video doing something and encouraging others to join in. Sometimes they use the same music soundtrack for these challenges. For example, “Stair Challenge” encouraged viewers to do a shuffle step up a flight of stairs. In a very short time, videos with the #stairchallenge tag had more than 250 million views on the app. While most participants completed the challenge with ease, that was not always the case.
From Silly to Dangerous
While many TikTok Challenges are simply fun and silly— like the "Level Up Challenge" that had participants building a wall out of any material and trying to jump over it—it’s the dangerous ones parent should know about. For example, in August of last year, Parentology reported that “a 15-year-old girl from Oklahoma City died from an overdose of Benadryl.” The teen had seen the “Benadryl Challenge’ on TikTok, which reportedly encouraged users to take excessive amounts of Benadryl to induce a “high.”
Why Do Kids Participate in TikTok Challenges?
According to Dr. Pamela Rutledge, “TikTok challenges offer kids a sense of belonging and a way of building social capital — or street cred —being part of something, getting to talk about what you contributed to the latest trend is important to teens and tweens.”
Challenges also fill a void many kids are feeling right due to the pandemic. Because they are missing the sense of community they normally get from school or by congregating in public spaces, they're filling that void by participating in viral online events—like these TikTok challenges. So while they may seem like a ridiculouswaste of time to adults, for kids… well, remember, they are just being kids.
We hope you will join us on Feb. 16 to learn more.
Image from: "Tik Tok Challenge - Plank Challenge Fails Compilation" https://youtu.be/83rcdNio6C8