Challenges - a social media phenomenon

Children and young people are repeatedly confronted with tests of courage online, in which participants film themselves. They share their video clips via video platforms such as YouTube and TikTok, hoping for likes and thus recognition. Many of these contests trend sporadically and then spread rapidly on social media. They range from harmless challenges that require stamina or skill to risky challenges that can cause serious health damage.

Most people have been familiar with the phenomenon of Internet challenges since the "ALS Ice Bucket Challenge" went viral worldwide in 2014. The challenge consisted of pouring a bucket of cold water over one's head and then nominating three people. These should also take on this challenge within 24 hours. The performance and nomination were filmed and uploaded to YouTube or sent to friends via WhatsApp or Facebook . Tens of thousands, including many celebrities, took part. Those who did not accept the challenge were asked to donate 100 euros/US dollars to the ALS Association for research into the nerve disease ALS.

Harmless fun or problematic self-endangerment?

Since the Ice Bucket Challenge, there have been many other challenges that have gone viral worldwide. Challenges often have the character of a challenge, because other people are specifically nominated and thus challenged to participate. Even without a nomination, popular challenges spread quickly on social media and find many imitators. These include fitness exercises (e.g., staying in the forearm position for a predefined period of time; the "Plank Challenge"), or skill challenges (e.g., opening the screw cap of a bottle with a targeted kick; the "Bottle Cap Challenge").

However, there are always challenges that encourage risky behavior. One of these, for example, was the so-called "Bird Box Challenge". Based on the 2018 horror film BIRD BOX, the challenge involved moving blindfolded through one's surroundings. The "Tide Pod Challenge", which consisted of biting on detergent pods, also gained great popularity.

Our teaching unit "Challenges - All in good fun??" offers educational professionals a variety of ideas for working on the topic of challenges with children and young people.

When should caution be exercised?

Tests of courage are part of the developmental risk behavior of many young people - this was already the case in offline times. They are concerned with measuring themselves against others or proving something to themselves by overcoming subjectively experienced unpleasant feelings. Social recognition within the peer group is an important motivating factor here.

Even if children and adolescents do not actively participate in dangerous challenges, images of burns, scars or bleeding wounds can lower inhibition thresholds and stimulate unhealthy behavior. Particular caution is required in the area of eating disorders or on the subject of suicide: Children and young people in crisis situations can be further destabilized by the depiction of dangerous behavior.

Self-harm as a trend?

In its annual report 2019,jugendschutz.net states an increase of 77 percent in self-harming online content. The report "Selbstgefährdung im Netz 2020" (Self-harm online 2020) provides more detailed information on the dimensions and trends of self-harming content online, in addition to violations and measures.

What to do in case of dangerous challenges?

Support children and young people in recognizing and correctly assessing the risks of challenges:

  • Stay in regular contact with children and young people to find out which dares are currently in vogue.
  • Discuss that there are also many fakes circulating among risky challenges. Encourage children and young people to critically question the actions shown.
  • Encourage children and young people not to put themselves or others in danger and not to give in to peer pressure when asked to do so.
  • Communicate that spreading dangerous challenges is also problematic, as it endangers others.
  • Inform other parents and the class administration if dangerous challenges are circulating among friends or at school.
  • Self-harming Internet challenges should be reported to internet-complaints-agency.com or jugendschutz.net and the appropriate online platform
  • Do not warn publicly by posting or sharing content of dangerous challenges, as this encourages their spread.
  • Do not condemn challenges across the board and help interested children and young people find safe challenges.

Counseling centers for those seeking help

  • Nummer gegen Kummer e. V. offers anonymous and free telephone counseling for children, adolescents and parents. Children and adolescents can also contact the em@il counseling of the "Nummer gegen Kummer" (number against sorrow).
    Child and youth telephone Tel.: 116 111, Mon. to Sat. from 2 - 8 p.m. and Mon., Wed. and Thurs. from 10 - 12 p.m.
    Parent telephone Tel.: 0800 - 111 0 550, Mon. to Fri. from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Tues. and Thurs. from 5 - 7 p.m.
  • youth.support is an advice and help service for children aged 12 and over and young people. On the web page there is a special topic area Challenges & courage tests in which one can find Tipps and offers of assistance.
  • JUUUPORT is a nationwide advice platform where young people can help each other if they have problems on or with the Internet. Whether cyberbullying, rip-offs, data security or technology - young people can ask questionsabout all web topics at www.juuuport.de.