Online Challenges: Prevention and Responses

March 17, 2020

Online stunts and challenges can vary from the very silly to the very dangerous, and yet they provide participants and viewers a shared bonding experience. Participants can tag their friends when they complete a challenge or share via word of mouth at school or on campus. The interconnectedness and group experience can make challenges and stunts seem like the ‘in’ thing.

When speaking with students, I hear younger children talk about scary challenges, such as the Momo Challenge and the Blue Whale Challenge (both fictitious challenges which took on more importance with time). And even when I assure them that the Challenges are not real, the children insist that these online boogeymen exist.

Older students of course mention Ice Bucket Challenge, Harlem Shake Challenge, Bottle Cap Challenge, Fire Challenge and now we are seeing Skullbreaker challenge. The Skullbreaker challenge involves tricking someone into jumping into the air before friends on either side kick the player’s legs out from underneath them. This of course causes the person to fall heavily on their back and skull.

Many injuries have been reported with respect to the Skullbreaker and Fire Challenges and many children are still scared of Momo. Parents and caregivers can guide their children and young people with critical thinking and communication in order to separate the dangerous stunts from the silly. Online stunts and challenges will not cease to exist as children around the world vie to create a viral sensation, and so digital parents must craft a useful strategy to deal with the issue.

How can parents handle online challenges?

  • Stay informed of what is happening in the digital world
  • Trends do not last forever and children eventually move on to the next ‘BIG’ thing
  • Downplay the hysteria and panic with truth, critical thinking and research. (Both Momo and Blue Whale were hype used to scare people.)
  • Keeping those conversations going so that your children will always come and talk to you about what’s happening
  • Make sure that your child knows that you will not ban their technology forever if they come to you with a problem. Fear of confiscation / punishment is one reason that children keep their online problems to themselves.

Take-Aways – Scary, dangerous, silly challenges are not new to children and young people. Parents, think back to your childhood days with perhaps a Ouji board or Tarot cards, where you scared other kids at a slumber party or camp out.

Online scary thrills will always be attractive to children, however our responsibility as parents is to ensure that our children use technology, internet and social media safely.

Written by

Elizabeth Milovidov

Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov is a mom to two tech-savvy little boys, a lawyer, law professor and eSafety consultant.

She is a member of the Working Group of experts on Digital Citizenship Education and an independent expert on Digital Parenting and Children and Internet for the Children’s Rights Division of Council of Europe.

She is an advisor on European Cooperation and International Projects for e-Enfance, a French online child protection association providing support to parents and children in the digital age.

Her core work involves researching solutions for parenting in the digital age and she has authored several guides and workbooks for parents, moderates a Facebook community for parents and is the founder of a website and community with resources for parents.