Experts and even the FDA advise against this challenge. Here's why and how to talk to your kids about it.

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An image of a crate on a colorful background.
Credit: Getty Images. Art: Jillian Sellers.

Social media crazes are a dime a dozen. Some, like the dance moves that shot obscure teen Charli D'Amelio to superstardom overnight, are fun and harmless. But a new one has gone viral, and now even the FDA is weighing in on it.

It's called the milk crate challenge. It involves people climbing a stack of milk crates shaped like a pyramid. It may sound like a way to enjoy some adventure without leaving your yard, which people may be hesitant to do during the ongoing pandemic, but some doctors are worried.

"The milk crate challenge most definitely is not safe," says Howard Pratt, D.O., a psychiatrist and behavioral health medical director at Community Health of South Florida, Inc. (CHI). "It's like watching a train wreck in slow motion. We know how it's going to end, which is badly, with someone about to fall and get hurt."

The FDA gave its take during a back-and-forth with comedian Conan O'Brien, who quipped that he was "waiting for FDA approval before I take the milk crate challenge" on Twitter.

"Although we regulate milk, we can't recommend you try that," the FDA replied. "Perhaps enjoy a nice glass of 2% and return all those crates to the grocery store?"

Jokes aside, you may have missed the memo about the milk crate challenge if you've been avoiding the news and social media. But your kids may have gotten it. Here's what parents need to know about the latest—and possibly dangerous—trend.

How did the milk crate challenge start?

The milk crate challenge likely started when a pink-haired woman, whose identity we do not know, posted a video of herself climbing a pyramid of crates as a crowd watched. She was wearing flip-flops and eventually fell. The crates topple over, too.

Since then, others have tried and suffered similar fates. Dr. Pratt cringed when a friend shared some videos with him.

"Every person I've seen doing the challenge has not only fallen but fallen headfirst onto the crates, with many injuring themselves," says Dr. Pratt. "Since it's almost inevitable that one is going to get hurt, it's almost as if the challenge were deliberately set up to see how badly a person can be injured doing it."

Is the milk crate challenge safe?

Though Dr. Pratt has seen many falls, we don't know how many people have gotten injured because of the milk crate challenge. But other experts agree this social media trend is a no-go.

"Milk crates might appear sturdy as one but stacking multiple for someone to climb is just not what they are built for," says Nkeiruka Orajiaka, M.D., emergency medicine physician at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "Crates are set up on grass, which people aim for to provide a softer landing, but these surfaces are also not smooth or flat and lead to more falls because it is unstable."

Dr. Orajiaka adds that falling from a height can cause multiple injuries and may be particularly unsafe for children whose minds and bodies are still developing.

How can parents talk to their kids about the milk crate challenge?

The best time to talk to your child about the milk crate challenge is before they attempt it. "Watch the videos together, admit that they are entertaining, but explain the risks," advises Atoosa Kourosh, M.D., MPH, a pediatrician based in Washington. "Watch the consequences as well. People have posted their injuries too, including giant bruises, casts, and splints."

And remember, actions speak louder than words. "Parents should also stop attempting these challenges," says Dr. Orajiaka. "When we model these behaviors or participate in these challenges, kids see it as something they can also achieve."

If a parent finds out their child has already done the challenge, there's still time to talk about it. "Ask them how the challenge went and how they felt participating in it," says Dr. Orajiaka. "If they got hurt, seek care to be sure they are doing well."

But even the child does not get hurt, Dr. Orajiaka adds it's important to discuss the dangers of the challenge. "Avoid praising them," she says. "Praising them for succeeding in such harmful challenges may encourage them to undertake similar challenges in the future. Rather, discuss possible harm and consequences that could have resulted if they got hurt."

How can parents get ahead of these challenges and trends?

Dangerous ideas on social media are nothing new. If it's not the milk crate challenge, it will be something else. Dr. Orajiaka says it's important to remember that the child's mind is still developing.

"Developmentally, kids and younger teens do not have their frontal lobe, a part of the brain, fully developed yet," she explains. "This is the part of the brain that processes consequences of an action before undertaking the action. That means they are more likely to jump into trends without thinking or considering any potential harm."

Keeping up with the social media trends as best they can by following the news can help parents get in front of a dangerous situation before a child engages in it. But sometimes, kids are faster than adults, especially on the internet. Parents can still help their kids make good decisions.

"Parents can also have ongoing conversations with their kids about different make-up scenarios and what they would do in these situations," says Dr. Orajiaka. "This can help each parent gauge their child's response and know how to guide conversations around safety."