You’ve probably heard about the ‘Ice bucket challenge’, or the ‘skull-breaker challenge’ – Online challenges are viral videos wherein people are challenged to perform all sorts of dares, tasks and tricks for online glory. They’re mostly fun and whimsical, but occasionally dangerous and harmful. What can parents do to help their children stay safe?
An example of one of the more dangerous challenges is the above mentioned ‘skull-breaker challenge’, a notorious 2020 viral trend. The skull-breaker participants pranked their friends by asking them to jump in the air, only to kick their legs from under them and trip them onto the ground. The challenge sent several children, and even adults, to hospitals with concussions and other injuries.
Contrast this with the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ – a challenge used to promote awareness to ALS (also known as motor neuron disease and in the US as Lou Gehrig’s disease). That challenge was actually fun and did a lot of good.
Children often have a hard time telling apart the more dangerous challenges from the innocent ones. Mix that with some old-fashioned online peer-pressure, and you’ve got yourself a potentially harmful combination. As parents, this is a golden opportunity to not only protect our children but to also help them tell apart fun trends from harmful peer pressure.
Talking to young children about online challenges
Like in all complex conversations, start by finding a time when both you and the child are available to talk. Start by asking her of him what do they know about internet challenges like these: Did their friends ever participate in a challenge? Did they see someone else participate on social media?
Next, ask what the child thinks about those challenges. This is a good time to discuss how both of you feel about this phenomenon. A good question to bring up is – “Why do people participate in these challenges?”
Your goal should be to help your child understand the mechanism of peer-pressure behind these challenges. Help your child see that people don’t always participate in these challenges for fun, but rather, because they saw someone else do it.
To do that, you can compare these challenges to advertisements, which are designed to manipulate people into spending their money on things they don’t necessarily need. Once your child understands this manipulation, it will be easier to resist it
Here’s a good rule of thumb – will this challenge still seem fun or interesting in about a year, when it’s out of context and everyone has already forgotten about this trend? If not, it’s probably not worth taking part in.
Stay away from dangerous challenges
Children should know that some of these challenges are harmful, and could possibly hurt them or their friends. Children under 13 might be a bit too young to tell apart the dangerous challenges from the fun ones. Instead of asking a small child to never participate in a challenge, ask them to come to you for advice before participating in one, so you can help them decide if that specific challenge is indeed harmful.
Older kids and teens can be mature enough to decide if a challenge might be dangerous. If your child is mature enough, ask him or her to stay away from the dangerous challenges. There’s no harm in some viral fun, as long as nobody is getting hurt.
Finally, ask your child to consider these things together – the peer-pressure and the physical risks. Tell your child to never participate in a challenge unless they’re 100% sure it’ll be personally fun for them and that nobody is getting hurt. If they’re not sure, ask them to come to you for advice. Who knows, perhaps you and your child can take a crack at one of these challenges together, assuming you both agree it’ll be fun and safe.