If you spend any time online at all, you have probably heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge, a sensationally successful fundraising tool for the ALS Association. While it has spurred some controversy and many blogs pondering the merits or faults of what may be a new way to raise money for causes, I am relieved that it is not, as I first feared when I saw my first Ice Bucket Challenge post, yet another challenge to youth to engage in a harmful activity.
Dangerous stunts in the form of “challenges” are becoming increasingly popular. Over the years, I have had to alter my discussion of peer pressure and influence to middle school kids to include the potential harms of these so-called games and challenges. It is no longer adequate to discuss to risks from tobacco, alcohol, street drugs, prescription drugs and distracted driving. Kids today are being encouraged by peers to participate in challenges that their parents, teachers and physicians may not heard of and would not believe their child would try even if they have. As adults, we are increasingly challenged to keep up with trends in youth risk-taking and to find ways to mitigate these risks.
This month, after a protracted effort on the part of several parents, a challenge page that encouraged kids to upload pass out videos, initially deemed not to meet criteria for harm, was removed from Facebook. YouTube does not actively police their site for harmful content but will remove videos when flagged. This policy has resulted in a sort of whack- a -mole type activity for many parents who routinely flag choking game videos - but they cannot keep up. And there are so many more venues for promoting these games.
At the same time parents were working to take down the Pass Out Challenge on Facebook, Jennifer Gibbs learned of the choking game when her son came home with a head injury from a fall while participating. Her impassioned plea to teenagers to “do your homework” about these challenges went viral and may have contributed to the eventual decision to have the page removed. If kids posted similar challenges to each other, we might begin to win the war on these challenges.