'Fun' challenges that move from viral to fatal

'Fun' challenges that move from viral to fatal
Online challenges range from 'harmless' to 'horrifying' and 'deadly.'

The 'KiKi Challenge' spread like wildfire across the globe. Recently, three youths were punished for attempting KiKi challenge alongside a moving train. In the video, one of the men steps off the train and starts dancing to the song while his friend films it on a mobile phone. When the train starts moving, he runs alongside, dancing. The video also shows his friend partially hanging out of the door of a moving train and attempting a dance move.

'Momo challenge,' a deadly one, has surfaced on the internet. A suicide game with the name 'Momo Challenge' has become the new nightmare of law-enforcement agencies around the world. Now, the suicide of a 12-year-old girl in Argentina is reportedly being linked to the 'Momo challenge'.

Online Challenges are the new viral now. It has started taking social media by storm. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are filled with people trying out some of these popular challenges. In the past few years, thanks to social media, these challenges have been trending globally. Online challenges range from 'harmless' to 'horrifying' and 'deadly.' There are the funny ones (Mannequin Challenge); the helpful ones (ALS Ice Bucket Challenge); and the risky ones (Tide Pole challenge & Make Your Own Slime Challenge). But sometimes, challenges are downright dangerous, resulting in physical injury and even death, like the KiKi and blue whale challenges.

What lures teenagers

Teenage is a difficult age and there is a tendency to do silly and rather dangerous things. The advent of social media has brought a new social dynamic to those trying to navigate the challenge of adolescence. For instance, it's easier than ever for people to encourage strangers on the other side of the world to participate in so-called 'social media challenges.'

Immature brain development: Children's brains are programmed to seek out new experiences to encourage learning, but unfortunately teenagers don’t possess the ability to make rational choices. The teenage brain is loaded with dopamine, so it is driven to seek out constant stimuli and reward. This means things that feel good in general feel amazing to a teenager, and they’ll use poor judgement to achieve the sensation.

Peer pressure: Social media plays a critical role in connecting teens to these new friends, allowing them to meet new people, gain information, and build relationships easier and faster. It makes them feel more connected and involved with their peers. They look at what others do and crave and seek out approval through likes and views. It’s a powerful tool that feeds and breeds popularity, whether real or perceived, and a whole slew of potential self-esteem issues. They want to feel connected and there’s almost a sense of allegiance. To 'fit in,' teenagers try to replicate what others do. There can be a sense of 'peer acceptance' that compels some teens to participate in such online challenges, even if they might be exceedingly risky or harmful.

Constant exposure: Due to the prevalence of social media, kids are getting exposed to so many things and the adolescent brain is 'hugely vulnerable' to the pitfalls of social media. Moreover, several algorithms are at work on platforms like Facebook. So, if you’ve looked at a particular hashtag or type of content in the past, it will push similar content to your feed, further spreading potentially harmful ideas. This is known as 'contagion risk.'

What teenagers should know...

Today’s challenge will be forgotten tomorrow. Except by you. You will always bear the scars earned in the quest for for momentary popularity. Sadly, everyone else will move on to the next thing by the weekend. Ask yourself, is this a risk you will be proud of looking back after sometime? Moreover, every challenge is not necessary popular. And there’s a reason for that. The 'wow factor' that people might have, doesn’t mean they are impressed in a positive way. Why not take better risks, to gain popularity. For instance, start a club at school, help someone who can’t repay you, ask out a guy or girl whom you perceive is out of your league. Challenge yourself to grow as a person rather than focus on convincing others you are worth their attention by participating in a fleeting craze. Use your adventurous spirit to leave a positive impact on others.

What parents can do

Talk about it: With the rise of dangerous online challenges it’s important to stay engaged with children and know what they may be exposed to. There should be regular conversations about what they do online. Though we can't always be with them to prevent dangerous behaviour, our words really can stay with them. Say, "If you ever want to do an internet challenge, check with me first."

Acknowledge peer pressure: It’s important not to underestimate the pressures children face to keep up with all the latest trends online. Children will be desperately wanting to engage online, coupled with a desire to take part. This is completely natural but parents can take responsibility to make sure they’re doing this safely.

Not everyone is doing it: Remind your child that what is seen online or in the media does not mean it is as popular as it seems.

Get them to think: Help your kid think through the challenges and whether they're safe or have potential risks. Say, walk through each step and figure out where things could go wrong.

Stay up to date: Hold discussions with kids. Sometimes, kids are more willing to talk about what's going on with other kids than with themselves, so pose questions about friends, school, and trends. Once the conversation is open, you can get a sense of what your kid thinks about the latest craze.

Be a role model: Some parents are the ones recording their kids and posting on social media, so make sure your involvement sends the message you intend. Today it might be harmless, but tomorrow it might be more dangerous.

Sadly, the trend of dangerous online challenges and the injury and trauma it inflicts on young men and women are here to stay.

(K Sanjay Kumar Gurudin, an IPS officer of the 2005 batch, Kerala cadre, is a socially conscious cop, a well-known cyber expert, and an author of the must-read book 'Is Your Child Safe?' He has had an outstanding and illustrious career as superintendent of police in Kerala)

(Please direct your queries to korisanjay7ips@gmail.com)

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