Online challenges every parents should watch out for this summer

By Internet Matters Team on

With the rise of dangerous online challenges encouraging children to self-harm it’s important to stay engaged with what they may be exposed to and have regular conversations about what they do online.

We’ve pulled together the top 6 online challenges that parents need to be aware of and advice on how to prevent your child from putting themselves in harms way through peer pressure.

What does the expert say?

While many of the challenges might seem extreme – promoting self-harm, suicide, bullying or the sharing of naked images, child psychologist and Internet Matters Ambassador Dr Linda Papadopoulos says it’s important not to underestimate the pressures children are under to keep up with all the latest trends online.

“We know that children will be desperately wanting to engage online with their school social group during the holidays as they are not seeing them every day, which will be coupled with a desire to take part and the fear of missing out. Of course, this is completely natural, but parents can take responsibility to make sure they’re doing this safely.”

Top 6 Online challenges to watch out for

What? The deodorant challenge, also known as the aerosol challenge is a disturbing peer to peer endurance game. Teenagers have filmed themselves spraying deodorant a few inches from their skin as they aim to outdo one another by seeing who can endure the pain the longest. The challenge has been known to leave school children with horrific burns and parents have spoken out on social media after finding their children with burns.

What issues could this raise? Peer Pressure, Physical Injury

How can I help prevent this? Have a conversation with your child and find out if they have heard of the challenge or know of anyone who has taken part. Talk to them about peer pressure. Remind them of the physical damage it can cause to their body and have a sensible conversation about the emotional damage posting something like this can have on them especially when they’re older, as it can never be removed.

What? A Snapstreak is achieved when two people send pictures back and forth on Snapchat for a consecutive number of days. So for example, if you’ve sent 250 snaps to each other, your streak count will be 250. But to keep a streak going, you have to send a snap back to that friend within 24-hours otherwise you lose your entire Snapstreak count for good. There are a number of petitions from teenagers online, urging Snapchat to let them get their streak count back as their snap count has effectively become a tool for evaluating their friendships. If they don’t have a good Snapstreak count with another user, it signifies to others, they’re not good friends.

What issues could this raise? Parents have complained it has led to cyberbullying when their child was responsible for losing the Snapstreak and excessive screen time.

How can I help prevent this? Talk to your child about relationships and reiterate that popularity cannot be measured by an arbitrary number and remind them an app should not be responsible for their self-esteem or determine who their real friends are. If you have concerns about cyberbullying see our support page here.

What? This craze had a resurgence earlier this year with teenagers burning themselves with salt and ice. Youngsters placed the salt on their skin followed by an ice cube. The salt reduces the temperature of the ice to as low as -26 degrees, which has resulted in horrific burns similar to frostbite.  Similarly to the aerosol challenge, they are filmed doing the challenge to see who can last the longest and outdo their peers. The NSPCC issued a warning at the start of the year urging parents to remain vigilant over the Salt and Ice Challenge.

What issue does this raise? Peer Pressure, Physical injury

How can I address this? Ask your child if they know anyone who has taken part in the salt and ice challenge or if it’s something they have heard of. Talk to them about peer pressure and how to say ‘no’. Discuss the dangers of posting inappropriate videos online and remind them that if something is posted online, it can be difficult to get it removed.

What? The pass-out challenge which is also known as Space Monkey and The Choking Game picked up steam last year. Teens were filmed passing out on purpose in a bid to reach a euphoric high and it was deemed responsible for several deaths including Karnel Houghton, 12, of Birmingham.  However just last month head teacher Paul Ramsey, of Verulam School in Hertfordshire told how he was forced to hold an assembly about the worrying online game as he discovered pupils were attempting to copy it from videos they had seen on social media.

What issue does this raise? Physical injury, sharing of inappropriate content

How do I help prevent this? Have a conversation with your child before they are given access to social media about dangerous trends and urge them to talk to you or a trusted adult should they hear about or see any. Talk to your child in a relaxed setting so they don’t feel they are being interrogated such as in the car. Look for signs of the challenge including bruises on their neck or bloodshot eyes. If you have concerns that your child’s school friends may be taking part in a dangerous trend, contact your child’s school and raise awareness of the issue.

What? The Touch My Body challenge is a new online trend which sees one person blindfolded while a second player forces them to touch a part on their body. The result is often participants being forced to touch another person’s private body parts. They are then filmed attempting to guess which body part they touched and the videos are shared across social media. The videos have been widely shared online in the past two weeks..

What issue does this raise? Sharing of inappropriate content,

How can I help prevent this? Talk to your child about the game and ask them if they have ever seen any Touch My Body Challenges or have ever been asked to take part. This may seem like a difficult conversation to have so chose neutral ground or somewhere you both feel comfortable. Reiterate once something is online, it’s extremely difficult to get removed.

Urge your child to apply the ‘t-shirt test’ when it comes to sharing images, pictures or videos to friends. Would you wear it on your T-shirt? If not, then don’t send it. Explicit content can spread very quickly over the internet and affect your child’s reputation at school and in their community both now and in the future. It could also affect their education and employment prospects.

What? The Blue Whale Challenge allegedly sees teenagers follow a series of dark accounts on social media that instruct them to take part and livestream 50 challenges in 50 days. The challenge reportedly starts with watching a scary movie and eventually they escalate in extremes to include self-harm.  On the 50th day, the participant is told to commit suicide.  Although many have questioned the challenge as ‘fake news’ and many experts have dubbed it a hoax however there are a series disturbing images on social media including self-harm under the guise of the Blue Whale.  Instagram issues a warning message to users if they attempt to find cases of the ‘suicide dare game’ and directs them to Samaritans. Reports have claimed the is responsible for the death of over 130 children in Eastern Europe and parents of two US teenagers have also blamed the challenge for their child’s suicide.

What issues does this present? Risk of self-harm, viewing inappropriate content, creating inappropriate content

What’s the advice? Internet Matters urges parents to talk to their children about online trends among their peers and chat to them regularly about what games their friends are talking about. Talk to them about how they may face peer pressure online as they would offline. Ensure that you have set up their device safely to stop your child being able to find self-harm websites and images. If you are worried about your child’s emotional welfare or are concerned they may have come across The Blue Whale Challenge contact The Samaritans on 116 123.

more info

If you'd like to learn more about ways to help your child deal with peer pressure, Parent Zone offer a 'Peer pressure online – a parent’s' guide to help.

See guide

More to explore

Learn more about peer pressure and ways to support

Contact NSPCC helpline (0808 800 5002) for one to one guidance

Encourage your child to contact Childline if they want to talk in confidence