The Dangers of Internet Challenges: A Guide for Parents

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The Dangers of Internet Challenges: A Summary

Kids are eager to participate in internet challenges on TikTok and Instagram. While trying to flip a water bottle right-side-up or creating your own slime to play with can be fun, some internet challenges quickly turn dangerous.

Due to peer pressure, the desire for social media recognition, and the rush of doing something potentially dangerous, you might find your child interested in trends like “The Benadryl Challenge” or the “Shell On Challenge.”

As a parent, there are multiple things you can do to mitigate the risks of these challenges:

  • Show interest and take your child seriously.
  • Talk to them about how each step of a challenge works.
  • Practice general internet safety.
  • Model responsible behavior.
  • Consider how and whether to use parental controls.

Are you looking for more information about a particular challenge? Check out the full article below to see our list of challenges to know about in 2022.

All over the world, kids are participating in internet challenges. Some to impress their friends, others with the hope of going viral. Every day, popular platforms such as TikTok and Instagram are flooded with videos of young people filming their stunts and posting them online.

While some challenges are easy and fun, others have a severe and dangerous edge. From gluing your lips together to eating a spoonful of nutmeg, from rubbing ice and salt into your skin to swallowing laundry detergent pods — for many parents, the world of dangerous online challenges can be frightening and incomprehensible.

Kids and teens don’t always understand the risks of the trends they participate in. They can unwillingly end up in very uncomfortable and risky situations.

This article discusses internet challenges and why kids are drawn to them. We also catch you up to speed on the most recent trends and inform you about the risks involved with specific challenges.

If you want your child to participate in social media challenges in a fun and safe way, scroll down to our tips and tricks.

What is an Internet Challenge?

What is an internet challenge iconAn internet challenge generally involves someone completing a task on camera, posting the video on social media, and daring others to do the same.

There’s usually an element of fun, impulsiveness, or risk involved. In recent years, some of these challenges have become viral staples of social media culture, reaching an audience of millions.

Challenges can range from successfully “flipping” a water bottle to eating hot chili peppers. Entertainment plays a significant part in their popularity. Internet challenges make social media even more engaging and interactive.

Sometimes news channels will pick up on challenges, and in some instances, even celebrities or politicians participate. When the hype around a certain challenge dies, it doesn’t take long for another one to get popular.

With influencer culture growing on Instagram and YouTube, kids and teenagers are exposed to new content every single day. For parents, it can be difficult to keep up with whatever is trending from one day to the next. Moreover, in order to attract views, challenges have gotten more extreme over the years.

This has got people wondering: are social media challenges safe for kids?

Internet challenges: good or bad?

Internet challenges good or bad iconMost of the time, online challenges are harmless, silly, and fun. One of the main appeals of TikTok, for example, is the challenge to recreate popular dances. Because most of these routines are easy to learn, kids are eager to try them out. Generally, there are no risks involved.

Some viral challenges even bring about social change. This was the case for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. In 2014, people started raising money for the ALS association by either donating $100 or taking up the challenge of pouring ice-cold water over their heads.

Videos spread like wildfire. In fact, donations from the Ice Bucket Challenge allowed the ALS Association to increase its annual budget by 187 percent. This led to significant scientific advances and better quality of care for people living with ALS.

However, as a parent, it’s important to know that it can still be hazardous for children to participate in some of these trends. The physicality of online challenges can be a real issue, especially for kids.

They are more susceptible to social pressure, struggle to oversee the consequences of their actions, and react more emotionally to challenges. As a result, young people can get seriously injured or even die in an attempt to complete an online dare.

Is it a hoax? The truth about fake internet challenges

Fake internet challenges iconKnowing the dangers that are involved with some internet challenges, parents and teachers might be quick to worry. A single Google search can pull up all sorts of disturbing news headlines and personal accounts from people experiencing the dangers of online challenges first-hand.

However, it’s important to keep one thing in mind while doing research: some challenges turn out to be fake.

A hoax challenge attracts attention because it’s extreme. By design, it’s meant to cause panic and spread rumors. The following two challenges have been causing a lot of uproar, in the past and now. However, an investigation has shown that they’re either fake or largely exaggerated.

Still, as we’ll discuss below, even the myth and idea of challenges like the ones we outline below can have far-reaching consequences. This is why it’s important to know about them either way.

The Momo Challenge

The image of Momo, an unsettling and frightening character, has been sparking a lot of fear online. Supposedly, Momo encourages children to self-harm via messaging apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.

Contact with Momo is triggered by searching for a special phone number online. Subsequently, the player receives messages to complete challenges. But is it real?

The game has gained widespread attention online, primarily due to influencers on YouTube trying it out. But as it turns out, it’s actually fake. Phone numbers get you nowhere, and footage turns out to be manipulated.

Evidence of direct harm remains yet to be found. The main problem with Momo is hearsay and rumors. However, for parents, it’s still important to know about it, since children can easily get wrapped up in the myth of it.

Though the challenge has turned out to be a hoax, images can still cause children distress. The same thing goes for the Blue Whale Challenge, though consequences for that one are potentially worse.

The Blue Whale Challenge

In 2016, rumors began to spread of an online challenge game aimed at teenagers called “The Blue Whale Challenge.” The game, supposedly, set teens 50 tasks to complete over the course of 50 days.

While initial challenges are non-consequential, the degree of self-harm grows with each task, leading to the final challenge of committing suicide. Tasks are driven by a “curator,” who oversees the execution of the challenge. This creates a perfect environment for grooming.

While the game has been linked to the deaths of numerous young people around the world, a 2019 BBC investigation revealed that it is extremely unlikely the game ever really existed.

Not a single death has been proved to be linked to the challenge, neither by reporters nor by police. Rather, it seems that teenagers, some of them with pre-existing suicidal thoughts, could be drawn to groups and forums discussing this fictitious game.

While online discussion about this challenge has diminished, experts claim that the rumored phenomenon can still draw children in, same as for the Momo challenge.

This is why it’s important to practice general safety when it comes to kids online. We will discuss how to deal with online challenges and children in the final section of this article. First, let’s take a closer look at why children get involved in the first place.

Why Does My Child Want to Do a Viral Challenge?

Infographic showing why does your child want to do a viral challenge

Having kids grow up with technology can offer great opportunities but can also create testy situations. Especially when it comes to teenagers, it can be quite the task to help them understand the risks involved with online activity, while simultaneously allowing them the independence required to develop digital skills.

Not all online challenges are inherently bad. They can be a great way for kids to socialize with others and get creative online. But, as a parent, it can be difficult to understand why your kids or teens are attracted to challenges on the internet that seem embarrassing, painful, or outright stupid.

However, trends don’t attain popularity for no reason. There are all sorts of underlying factors that make kids and teenagers want to participate in online challenges.

Social pressure and fear of missing out

It’s a tale old as time: kids see something that other kids are doing and they want to try it for themselves. To a large extent, this sort of behavior is motivated by fear of missing out (FOMO).

Adolescence is a time in which social dynamics change constantly as teenagers attempt to figure out who they are and what they like. As a result of technology, teens are more aware of how they match up to others and what they are and aren’t a part of.

Fear of exclusion can be the reason your child participates in online challenges, even ones that they would usually not be drawn to.

FOMO has been linked to general social media distress in general. However, since the very point of internet challenges is to dare others to do the same or invite them to join in, the sense that you will miss something essential if you don’t, is even stronger.

Danger is exciting

For many kids, the dangerous edge of social media challenges is what excites them about these challenges in the first place. For teens who respond strongly to the pressure to prove themselves, there’s something appealing about a scary, difficult, or even risky set of tasks to complete. Moreover, the horror-taboo of certain internet trends is what makes them captivating.

For decades, perhaps even centuries, teenagers have been known to engage in reckless behavior that might not make a lot of sense to adults. There’s a neurological basis for this, since a teen’s prefrontal cortex is still in development. This is the part of the brain responsible for critical thinking and determining long-term consequences. At the same time, the emotional part of a teenage brain is overactive.

This makes it difficult for them to judge how dangerous an internet challenge really is. A slippery slope can be the result: each next challenge becomes slightly more extreme than the one before.

Social media recognition

Outrageous behavior is amplified on social media. Often, the more outrageous a challenge is, the more popular it gets. Especially on platforms like YouTube, certain videos can get millions and millions of views.

This is also the result of the fact that many dangerous social media challenges are actually driven by influencers. Social media personalities create a lot of hype around certain challenges.

For kids, the desire to become as popular as their online idols, or go viral for similar videos, is tough to resist, even when it comes to dangerous online challenges.

Social media amplifies kids’ and teens’ need to “chase” likes, to be socially accepted, and be seen as cool or popular. To get social media recognition, many are willing to partake in unsafe activities.

Addictive rush

A minor but concerning reason why internet challenges are popular is because it provides a type of “rush” or “kick” that children want to chase. This is true for the Black-out Challenge, for example.

Just before passing out, blood rushes back to your brain, which makes you feel good for a short amount of time. This can induce feelings of euphoria.

The Risk of Internet Challenges

For certain social media challenges, the risks are clear—at least to adults. It would seem obvious that swallowing poisonous laundry detergent pods can harm your throat and your internal organs, and that misusing medication such as Benadryl, can cause serious health problems. It baffles parents that something called the “choking game” can gain popularity.

However, in certain cases, the risks you read about online when it comes to dangerous social media challenges, are potentially overstated. Sometimes clear evidence that kids are actually doing these outrageous challenges is limited.

Alternatively, the scale of a challenge can be overstated: a single report on a local news website doesn’t indicate a nationwide craze.

Still, at the very least, it can be useful for parents to know about the risks involved, so that they can discuss these with their children. Moreover, while certain social media challenges might not be as dangerous in a direct sense, there can be associated risks, such as increased cyberbullying or vulnerability to phishing.

As we’ve seen, there’s a variety of reasons your child can be interested in internet challenges. In some cases, they just want to watch social media stunts for entertainment. In other cases, they are trying them out themselves or filming others participating.

To give you an idea of what sort of viral internet challenges your child might be interested in, we give you an overview of popular challenges to know about in 2022. While new challenges pop up every day, most fall into a certain type of category.

Have you heard your child talking about an online challenge? It might be one of these.

Fun challenges

Fun internet challenges iconIn previous years, a couple of fun challenges circulated around the web. While most of these are outdated and no longer performed by kids, once in a while, they’ll pop up again. For parents, it can be nice to know they exist—if not to try them out, then to provide examples for your children in terms of what a fun challenge can look like.

Whisper Challenge

In this online game, one player is wearing headphones and listening to music. Other players whisper sentences or expressions that the person with headphones has to guess. Lip-reading often results in funny answers.

Mannequin Challenge

This challenge was immensely popular in 2016 and 2017. Groups of people film themselves, while they strike a pose and hold it, as though they’re mannequins in a store. Even well-known figures such as Michelle Obama participated in this video trend.

Bottle Flip Challenge

This one is still around, though it’s lost some of its hype. The basic idea, is that you take a plastic water bottle, fill it halfway, then toss it in the air in such a way that it lands right-side up. The challenge is easy, can be done anywhere, and is generally harmless and fun.

Risky challenges

Risky internet challenges iconThe next category of challenges carries more risk. Though they don’t always result in injury or harm, parents should be aware of their existence.

Coronavirus Challenge

Gaining momentum at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, this challenge involves kids and teens licking various items or surfaces in public places.

This can range from handrails to public toilet seats. While there isn’t substantial evidence that this challenge actually results in being infected with COVID, it’s certainly unhygienic.

Eat It Or Wear It Challenge

The level of risk varies with this challenge. It mainly creates a mess.

As the name suggests, kids choose whether they want to eat or wear certain foods. If you don’t want to eat something, you have to dump it over your head. The challenge can be done with anything from flour to baked beans. More extreme versions include chewing gum and raw fish.

It’s not the most dangerous game in the world, but with general hygiene in mind, we still don’t recommend it for kids.

Gallon Challenge

This is certainly a riskier food challenge. Often executed with milk, the task is to consume a gallon of liquid within one hour. Because your internal organs simply cannot handle this amount of liquid, chances are you will upset your body in various ways.

Slime Challenge

This challenge is especially popular with younger kids. On YouTube, there are countless tutorials for do-it-yourself slime. However, not all ingredients in these recipes are safe.

One such ingredient is borax, or Sodium Tetraborate, which is found in laundry and cleaning supplies. In small doses, it should not be harmful. But kids have ended up with serious injuries, including second and third-degree burns, from overexposure, due to the slime craze.

The Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge

To imitate Kylie Jenner’s full-lips look, kids and teenagers will put a shot glass, bottle, or jar over their lips and suck out the air. The vacuum that’s created makes their lips swell. It can cause pain, bruising, blisters, infections, and scarring.

Additionally, it’s an indicator of body insecurity and the desire for a “perfect” appearance. This visibility and viral nature of the challenge can lower kids’ self-esteem.

The Backpack Challenge

This challenge involves a lot of physical risks. Children line themselves up in two rows. One child, then, runs between the rows, while the others repeatedly attempt to hit them with their backpacks.

The goal is to get to the other side without falling, though this is nearly impossible. The game can cause significant bruising and possible concussions.

Nutmeg Challenge

A play-off on the once-popular Cinnamon Challenge, the Nutmeg Challenge involves kids mixing large quantities of nutmeg into water or milk and drinking it. This is done in an attempt to get high, but can have very serious consequences, including hypothermia, hallucination, and falling comatose.

Chasing a high is a popular reason to partake in dangerous internet challenges, as we’ll see in the next category.

Extreme challenges

Extreme internet challenges iconIn certain cases, social media challenges can be seriously harmful and dangerous. While the degree of popularity of the following challenges varies, they can have extreme consequences when taken part in.

If you find your child interested in any of the following challenges, it’s best to discuss it with them immediately. We provide tips and tricks in the next section.

The Deodorant Challenge

This challenge was previously called “frosting,” and involves kids and teens burning themselves with deodorant spray. The task is to hold an aerosol deodorant as close to the skin as possible and spray it for as long as they can withstand the pain. First and second-degree burns are the result.

The Salt and Ice Challenge

In a variation of the Deodorant Challenge, kids are also inflicting harm upon themselves by sprinkling salt on their skin and holding ice against it. The salt lowers the temperature of the ice to the extent that it can create second and third-degree burns, as well as cause permanent scarring.

The 48-Hour Challenge

In this challenge, the goal is to make yourself disappear for at least 48 hours while severing all contact with friends and family. In a twisted play on emotions, kids will get extra credit for each social media post friends and relatives publish about their disappearance.

The Shell On Challenge

In 2017 and 2018, it was the Tide Pod challenge that had parents and professionals horrified. Now, instead of eating laundry detergent capsules, kids are consuming food items with packaging and all. This includes anything from fruit peels to cardboard to plastic “shell ons.”

Plastic consummation, especially, can have very serious physical consequences, due to the high level of chemicals they contain. These chemicals can influence hormones and have been linked to cancers.

The Black-Out Challenge

Also known as the Pass-Out Challenge or the “choking game,” this TikTok trend involves kids and teens deliberately cutting off their own oxygen supply and blood flow to create a temporary rush. In certain cases, this occurs to the point of brain damage or even death.

This trend has been around for decades: in the United States, according to Time Magazine, 82 children have died playing this game between 1995 and 2007. However, it’s recently been revived on TikTok and is absolutely something no child should partake in.

Benadryl Challenge

Another teenage attempt at getting high involves kids daring each other to consume large doses of Benadryl, which is an anti-allergic drug. This is done to trigger hallucinations but can cause heart failure, seizures, and comas. It can even be fatal if taken in extreme dosages.

Penny Challenge

The task of this challenge is simple: slide a penny into a partially plugged phone charger. This, however, can have very serious consequences. The penny can crash into the metal prongs of the plug, creating sparks and causing damage to the entire electrical system. In some cases, this can result in fires.


The final challenge in the list involves teens and tweens standing on one another’s back while they are lying on the floor. The goal for the person on the ground is to get up, while the other simultaneously has to balance on their shoulders. It can cause serious spinal injury.

What Can Parents Do? How to Respond to Viral Challenges

Infographic showing how to respond to viral challenges

Internet challenges can provide fun and entertainment for your child. It’s a way for them to connect with their friends and be creative online. Do they want to play the bottle flip game in the backyard? It should hardly cause any issues.

But how do you deal with risky or dangerous challenges?

Keep the conversation open

We can’t stress enough how important good communication is when it comes to children spending time online. Teaching your child digital skills through mutual trust is the most effective way of keeping them safe.

Rather than spying on their every move, it’s important that your kids know you want to help them recognize certain risks. When it comes to online challenges, it’s better to stay interested than to turn a blind eye.

Ask them what social media trends they’re interested in and why in a calm and judgment-free way. It’s important that you acknowledge peer pressure and their desire to be online.

Additionally, do your own research on a challenge so you’ll be less likely to misunderstand it. Try to be in a position where you can inform them of the potential risks, steer them towards other, more fun challenges, and help your child out effectively, should something unexpectedly go wrong after all.

Figure a challenge out together

A key component of allowing your child to become more independent online is getting them to think for themselves. If the topic of online challenges comes up, ask them to describe the challenge and what they think of it.

Make sure to talk with them about every step of the challenge. What’s the worst outcome? Is the challenge fun for everyone involved? Is online attention worth the risk? Asking these questions will help your child consider the consequences of their actions.

Practice general internet safety

An internet challenge, generally, falls under social media use. This means that it’s important to keep up practices you might already be using to increase your kid’s online safety:

  • Stick to agreements about screen use and screen time, especially when it comes to certain platforms or apps.
  • Encourage children to reach out to an adult when they encounter content online that’s graphic, violent, or unsuitable for their age in any way.
  • If you have rules about contact with strangers, apply these same rules to participating in internet challenges or sharing them. It can help to discuss and re-consider privacy settings.

Model responsible internet behavior

As a parent, it’s important you show by example. Some parents spend a lot of time recording videos of their children and posting them online, without really considering the consequences.

When it comes to challenges, you can do funny ones together, but give your child the option to not film it, or only send it to direct family members. That way, you show that there are different ways to partake in something.

Consider how to use parental controls

As a final measurement, parental controls are a way to keep a closer eye on your child’s internet activity. It’s important, however, to use this mindfully. Experts remind us that monitoring your kids’ internet behavior can make them trust you less and doesn’t actually teach many digital skills.

Therefore it’s important to consider which type of parental control you use. You also want to explain parental controls to your kids and keep them in the know. Be clear about distinctions. You might want to use controls to limit graphic content, but you won’t use it to read their texts.

This will build a relationship on mutual trust.

Final Thoughts

Social media challenges come and go, but kids and teens remain continuously drawn to them.

While some dares can be a fun and creative way for kids to spend time online, there’s a lot of peer pressure for children to try out more dangerous or risky ones. As a result, some viral challenges can have disastrous consequences. No amount of followers or likes is worth injuring or harming yourself.

For parents, it can be difficult to help their kids navigate the world of social media stunts. Keep in mind that it’s important to talk to them, know which challenges are real and not, and teach them to assess each challenge critically.

The Dangers of Internet Challenges: Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have any questions about social media challenges? Or are you worried about how to help your child stay safe online? Check out our FAQ below for answers!

Challenges that involve food can be dangerous for hygienic reasons. Consuming large quantities can upset your internal organs and cause heavy vomiting. Moreover, chemicals involved with certain food challenges can be poisonous.

Other phsycial risks associated with social media challenges include burning, swelling, bruising, fractured bones, heart failure, and in certain cases death.

Besides these, some challenges can heighten anxiety or make children more vulnerable to cyberbullying.

There are multiple reasons why kids are drawn to trying out internet challenges that could make them go viral on social media:

  • Peer pressure
  • Fear of missing out (FOMO)
  • Danger can be exciting
  • Neurologically, kids and teens are more prone to impulsive behavior
  • Getting social media recognition provides a rush

Some of the riskiest internet challenges for kids include:

  • The Benadryl Challenge: teens and tweens consume large quantities of Benadryl to get high.
  • The Salt and Ice Challenge: a game in which you hold ice to salt on your skin for as long as possible, resulting in burns.
  • The Backpack Challenge: a player is tasked to run between two rows of children who hurl backpacks at them.
  • The Gallon Challenge: consume a gallon of liquid, which can cause serious harm to internal organs.
  • The Black-Out Challenge: also known as the “choking game,” in which kids cut off their own oxygen supply to get a rush; has resulted in death in certain cases.

The Momo Challenge is feared for the way it supposedly instructs children to self-harm via apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. However, as it turns out, the Momo Challenge is more of a hoax than anything else. Contacting phone numbers doesn’t get you anywhere, and YouTubers often manipulate footage.

International Censorship & Security Journalist
Lauren Mak is an internal censorship and security-focused journalist with a keen eye for how technology affects society. With a background in International Relations and North American Studies, Lauren brings a unique perspective to the VPNOverview team. Lauren has a passion for helping others understand the importance of privacy, freedom, and internet safety and brings that passion to VPNOverview.