TikTok 'Blackout Challenge' Is Good Reminder to Talk to Your Kids About Social Media Dangers

The 'Blackout Challenge' is making a comeback on TikTok. We spoke with two experts to learn how parents can talk to kids about these social media challenges and warn them of their dangers.

Woman looking down deep hole in large pink smart phone
Photo: Getty

Haven't we learned our lessons from dangerous TikTok trends yet? From eating Tide Pods and climbing milk crates to shooting people with frozen gel beads, we seem to have run the gamut of unsafe things to film and post on TikTok, and now coming full circle, there is an old challenge that is making a comeback. Dubbed the #BlackOutChallenge, kids get severely hurt and even die after holding their breath long enough to pass out. One mom in Australia is sounding off about this trend in hopes that other parents will listen to her story.

The trend, sometimes called the "thumb blowing pass out" game, has been a problem on TikTok for years, and recently, the social media giant began deleting hashtags related to the game that has seen countless kids injured or killed.

In 2013, 12-year-old Sam Thomas of Newquay, Cornwall, tried the challenge at school, and it went horribly wrong. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was placed in a medically induced coma for 36 hours. In another terrible example, 12-year-old Joshua Haileyesus, from Colorado died after trying the challenge in 2021.

And now, a mom from Sydney, Australia, is warning parents to talk to their kids about just how horrific and dangerous the blackout challenge is. She told 7NEWS, an Australian news site, about her experience finding her son unconscious after trying the game. "I ran up the stairs, and as I got up the top of the stairs, I could hear him like groaning," she told 7NEWS. In an interview, she described how her son's bedroom window was mere feet away and that he was lucky he didn't fall through it after passing out.

"I've since discovered how dangerous this is, and children around the world have lost lives," she told 7NEWS. "It's actually quite scary, and it's quite serious. I've since had a massive amount of anxiety over this video and others that are circulating on TikTok."

Don't Rush To Delete Apps—Have a Conversation

As frightening as this challenge may sound, not all social media is doom and gloom. After all, we live in an era when everyone, including kids, seems to lead online lives. We shouldn't delete our apps, but we shouldn't ignore the dangers either.

"Parents need to talk to kids about social media, same as peer pressure, tv, anything else," Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, clinical psychologist and founder of Dr. Psych Mom says.

Peer pressure is the name of the game for tweens and teens as they figure out who they are as they begin to gain more independence from parents. Parents can help their kids navigate different forms of peer pressure, from in-person (the kids at the cool table, for example) to online with TikTok challenges or Instagram-perfect selfies.

Dr. Whiten says that it is important for parents and kids to remember to take everything they see online with a grain of salt. Those epic videos of kids passing out? They aren't safe, no matter how fun they seem. And while it might feel like an understandable knee-jerk reaction to want to restrict or ban TikTok from kids, Whiten says, not so fast.

"I don't restrict access to TikTok for my oldest, who is 12, but I make sure to talk to her regularly about it," Dr. Whiten tells Parents. "They are going to see stuff from friends anyway, so better you can see it and discuss it with them."

Help Your Child Understand What Looks Fun Isn't Always Safe

So, how do parents talk to their kids about TikTok when the videos that the kids see look fun and cool?

"Start by introducing—or reminding—your child that good decisions and good ideas aren't necessarily the ones that the largest number of people support," Dr. Lindsay Weisner, a psychologist in private practice in Long Island, New York, and co-author of the book Ten Steps to Finding Happiness, and blogger for Psychology Today, tells Parents.

She adds, "It is very easy to get caught up in making your decisions based on what your friends are doing, but there is no guarantee that your friends have more knowledge, experience, wisdom, or expertise than you do. In fact, it is fairly likely that your friends are influenced by other people just like you are."

Dr. Weisner says that the next steps are to ask questions and then listen. She offers a few questions for parents to use to kick off some conversations with kids.

  1. Have you heard about social media challenges?
  2. Is there a challenge that you have heard about that sounds like it might be dangerous or unsafe?
  3. Without naming names, do you personally know anyone who has participated in a social media challenge?
  4. Why do you think these activities are referred to as 'challenges'?

"The focus should be to talk to your kids on a larger spectrum about how outside influences can be harmful or helpful, and teach them to recognize both the positives and the negatives," Dr. Weisner says.

So, the next time you see a scary news item that tells the tragic story of a person getting injured or killed from a TikTok challenge, don't panic but don't miss the opportunity to open up a dialog with your kids either. Being open, actively listening to your kids, and staying calm and collected can help you and your child sort out what is safe and worth trying and what should remain off-limits.

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