Self-harm on the net - problematic challenges and tests of courage

Children and young people are increasingly being encouraged to take part in dangerous tests of courage online. Many of the competitions are considered hip and entertaining and range from harmless challenges that require stamina, concentration or skill to risky challenges that can cause serious damage to health.

Most people have probably been familiar with the internet phenomenon of challenges since 2014. That year, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge spread rapidly around the world. The challenge consisted of pouring a bucket of cold water over one's head and then nominating three people to also take on the 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 Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, joined in. 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 amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Harmless fun or problematic self-endangerment?

Since the Ice Bucket Challenge, there have been a multitude of other challenges that have spread around the world. They are often harmless fitness exercises (for example, staying in the forearm position for a predefined period of time; the "Plank Challenge"), or skill challenges (for example, opening the screw cap of a bottle with a well-aimed kick; the "Bottle Cap Challenge").

Time and again, however, there are also tests of courage that encourage risky behavior. One of these recently was the "Bird Box Challenge. Based on the 2018 horror film BIRD BOX, the challenge involved moving through one's surroundings blindfolded. The "Tide Pod Challenge," which consisted of biting down on toxic detergent pods, also gained widespread notoriety.

Internet challenges - a modern form of tests of courage

Tests of courage are part of the developmental risk behavior of many young people - this was already the case in offline times. The main aim of the young participants is to prove something to themselves by overcoming subjectively experienced unpleasant feelings, to set themselves apart from their parents and to gain recognition within their peer group. It is important to talk openly with young people about the risks of such challenges and to encourage them to question the actions critically.

Self-harm as a trend?

The annual report records a 77 percent increase in content in the area of self-harm for the year 2019 . Even if children and young people do not actively participate in dangerous challenges, images of burns, scars or bleeding wounds can lower inhibition thresholds and stimulate harmful behavior. Particular caution is also required in the area of eating disorders or where there is contact with the subject of suicide: Children and young people in crisis situations can be further destabilized by such content.

What to do in case of dangerous challenges?

Parents, educators, and teachers can help children and young people correctly assess the dangers of challenges:

  • Keep in touch with children and young people to find out which dares are currently in fashion.
  • Support children and young people in recognizing and correctly assessing risks.
  • Encourage children and young people to say "no" and not to give in to peer pressure.
  • Communicate that spreading dangerous challenges is also problematic because it endangers others.
  • Do not condemn challenges across the board and help interested children and young people to find safe challenges.

Risky Internet challenges can be submitted to or and should not be shared or disseminated among friends or publicly. Warnings about problematic contests and risky prompt games should also not be posted or liked, as this promotes the spread of the phenomenon.

Those seeking help can contact the following counseling centers: 

  • Nummer gegen Kummer e. V. offers anonymous and free telephone advice for children, young people and parents. Children and adolescents can also call 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. as well as Mon., Wed. and Thurs. from 10 - 12 p.m.
    Parent telephone Tel.: 0800 - 111 0 550, Mon. to Fri. from 9 - 5 p.m. as well as Tues. and Thurs. from 5 - 7 p.m.
  • 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 questions onall web topics at

Further information