Why teens attempt viral TikTok, social media challenges despite apparent dangers

Two new TikTok challenges have medical professionals worried about the safety of teens who seemingly look past the potential dangers involved in creating the perfect 15-second viral clip. The so-called “Skull Breaker” challenge, which apparently originated in Spain, sees two individuals kick the legs out from under a third individual who is then knocked to the ground. Another challenge, the “ChaCha Slide,” sees a driver jerk the wheel to the left, then the right, and then back and forth in tune with the song’s lyrics.

‘SKULL BREAKER’ CHALLENGE GOING VIRAL ON TIKTOK IS DANGEROUS, DOCTORS WARN

The vast majority of the participants are cackling away while the videos record, but there have already been several documented injuries stemming from these challenges. One mom in Arizona shared photos of her son in a hospital bed with a head injury and stitches after his feet were kicked out from under him and he landed on his back and head.

So why do teens seemingly overlook the risks involved in participating in these challenges? One expert said it has to do with brain development.

“Adolescents are in a stage of their development where peer relationships and feedback is very important to them,” Dr. Nicole Beurkens, a clinical psychologist and ambassador to Qustodio, told Fox News. “They are also dealing with more complex social interactions at a time when their prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for higher-level thinking, decision making and impulse control) is not yet fully developed. This combination of high need for positive social feedback and not yet fully developed impulse control make them more likely to engage in these kinds of challenges.”

Beurkens said the teens also fail to factor in the potential consequences of the risks they are willing to take in order to complete the challenge.

“They tend to be more ‘in the moment’ thinkers, as opposed to considering the longer-term consequences of their behavior,” she said. “There is also something called the optimism bias that causes people to believe that bad things won’t happen to them. Even teens who know the potentially dangerous consequences of doing a challenge like this can fall prey to the faulty thinking that ‘it won’t happen to me.’”

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To avoid potential catastrophic injury to your child or their friends, Beurkens recommends discussing the challenges and risks involved openly with their teenager before it’s too late.

“Be aware of what your kids are doing on social media and the kinds of things they are doing,” she said, suggesting that social media monitoring programs, like Qustodio, encourage a partnership between parent and child to ensure safe use.

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“Talk often about what they see and hear other kids doing, and how you feel and they feel about that,” she said. “Provide information about the dangers of these kinds of challenges and what they can do if they encounter a situation where they feel pressure to participate in something like this.”