Social Media Challenges: What Students, Parents & Educators Need to Know

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August 30, 2022

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What you will learn in this course

  • What are social media challenges
  • Why do students want to participate in social media challenges?
  • The pros and cons of these challenges
  • Tips for students and parents on how to safely participate in social media challenges

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This is great info, thanks for giving me some ideas on how to start a dialogue with my teen!


Sharon M.

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Josh's presentation about social media was unbelievably fantastic. Our students learned so much about what kids should and shouldn't be doing. The fact that it is such a thoughtful process made it all worthwhile.


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This webinar is a very helpful eye-opener on the apps that are popular with my students.


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Table of Contents

Social media challenges and hashtags are a quick way for a student to get a lot of likes or views for positive or negative actions.  Getting more views/followers/likes on social media is often very tempting for kids who face peer pressure (in-person or online) and they may not think through the consequences of the challenge beyond the hope of social media attention.

While there are plenty of positive social media challenges, many of the challenges that students talk about and  go viral  pose serious risks to participants and/or those around them. 

Parents and educators can help students learn how to manage peer pressure and make an informed decision of whether or not to participate in popular social media challenges.

Educators and parents: Guide your students' reflection and discussion with this student worksheet. (Log in to your Google account and select File-->Make a Copy)

What students think about social media challenges (video)

(This student-friendly video can be shown in the classroom or at home)

In this video students answer the following questions about social media challenges

(Click on the three lines or a blue dot in video progress bar to skip to a chapter)

  1. What do you think are possible outcomes (positive or negative) from participating in social media challenges?  
  2. Why do you think students carry out social media challenges? Is it to be funny? Is it to get likes/views/followers?
  3. What do you think parents should know about social media trends that we may not know or understand?
  4. What surprised you MOST while talking about social media challenges with your friends? Has your view of social media challenges changed?
  5. Have you ever posted your own video with a social media hashtag? Explain why or why not. Do you think you will participate and make videos for social media challenges in the future?

Social media challenge examples from students (video)

(This student-friendly video can be shown in the classroom or at home)

What you’ll learn in this video lesson

(Click on the three lines or a blue dot in video progress bar to skip to a chapter)

  1. Devious licks challenge
  2. Grip check challenge
  3. The cheese challenge

Student, parent, & educator training (video)

(This student-friendly video can be shown in the classroom or at home)

Students: Download this pdf to follow along with the video

What you’ll learn in this video lesson

(Click on the three lines or a blue dot in video progress bar to skip to a chapter)

  1. Formula for a successful challenge
  2. Popular social media challenges
  3. Pros of social media challenges
  4. Cons of social media challenges
  5. Police are considering harsher penalties
  6. Tips for students to have fun with challenges

Parent & Educator Content:

Pros & Cons of Social Media Challenges (expert video)

(This parent and educator video is best to be shown to adults)‍

What you’ll learn in this video lesson

(Click on the three lines or a blue dot in video progress bar to skip to a chapter)

  1. What is something many adults used to do that is a precursor to social media challenges?
  2. Why do students want to participate in social media challenges?
  3. What are some bad social media challenges that could be harmful to students or others?
  4. What are some good social media challenges to participate in and are there any benefits?
  5. What can parents do to make social media challenges less dangerous yet still fun?

Parent & educator lesson (video)

(This parent and educator video is best to be shown to adults)

What you’ll learn in this video lesson

(Click on the three lines or a blue dot in video progress bar to skip to a chapter)

  1. What are social media challenges?
  2. Psychology behind risky viral trends
  3. Why do students want to participate in challenges?
  4. Why should parents care?
  5. What should parents & educators do?
  6. Top tips for parents

Why do students want to do social media challenges?

The Internet and social media have become safe havens for many individuals struggling to find their place socially. Online popularity feeds our egos in many ways and also makes us feel valued…. Plus, successfully completing the challenge can feel like a “badge of honor...’ - Very Well Mind
Most of the time these social media challenges seem harmless, but when you think about them more deeply, they really can be problematic for the participants' future. But the same challenge could be used in a harmless way that poses no threat to the user. All in all I have come to the conclusion that it is really up to the participant to make the decision if the challenge is social media safe, and if they are doing the challenge in a way that benefits their social media presence. - Lucy, SmartSocial Student Intern

Devious Licks Challenge

This challenge is created to have people steal from their schools property. For example, people stealing sinks from the school bathroom or fire extinguishers from the schools property. This challenge would 100% hurt a student's reputation. If their dream college sees the student doing the challenge they may not get into their dream school or get their dream job. - Juliana, SmartSocial Student Intern
Some kids it’s funny to steal property and they want to gain attention, likes, views, and follows. - Chase, SmartSocial Student Intern
  • Many adults see these challenges as pointless actions other than getting other social media users to watch your video and often get a laugh (or a like) at someone else’s misfortunes, but many students find value in recreating and participating in these challenges
  • Students often see the challenges and want to fit in with their peers in school and online
  • Challenges can offer a sense of community and connection with others
  • It can be thrilling to do something dangerous or daring or to get social media likes or follows
Why are people falling off milk crates? the psychology of risky viral trends
Children and teens are most susceptible to these dangerous challenges because of the need for belonging. In our early teens and adolescent years, we are dying to be accepted and searching to find out a niche…Aside from the natural impulsivity, curiosity, and self-centered notion of living forever, this age group wants to be validated by others, especially their peers. - Very Well Mind

What are social media challenges?

  • Social media challenges are posted on popular apps and various platforms and describe an activity or action for viewers to recreate and video record themselves
  • Challenge participants often add a popular music track or text to the videos that match others in the particular challenge 
  • They post their videos to their own social media accounts with a hashtag that makes the videos discoverable when others search for the challenge and/or make their videos appear in strangers’ feeds based on the topic (for example #nobudge)
  • Some challenges are harmless and possibly even used to spread a good message or help spread awareness for a charity such as the popular Ice Bucket Challenge supporting ALS which became a viral social media challenge in 2014 (Source: ALS Association)
  • Many times these challenges are pointless actions other than getting other social media users to watch your video, gain new followers, and get a laugh at someone else’s misfortunes
  • Challenges can be one-time attempts or long-term multiple tasks over time
  • Students often see the challenges and want to fit in with their peers in school and online

Popular social media challenges

  • egg peel challenge
  • Pumpkinhead photoshoot
  • pillow challenge
  • ice bucket challenge
  • saltine cracker challenge
  • milkcrate challenge
  • devious licks challenge
  • no budge challenge
  • tide pod challenge
  • gesture challenge
  • mannequin challenge
  • trick shot challenge
  • Doodle challenge
  • recreating a dance routine

Pros and cons of social media challenges


  • Teamwork - Working together with friends to plan and implement a social media challenge can be a good experience
  • Spreading cheer and good humor - When challenges are safe and in good spirit, they can spread good feelings to others
  • Feeling included - To be a part of something feels good
  • Supporting a cause - Participating in a challenge that brings to light an important cause can helps others


  • Damaging property - Some challenges cause damage to personal or public property
  • Harming yourself or others - There have been many cases of students ending up in the hospital or worse
  • Potential legal repercussions - Many schools and police departments around the country are tired of social media challenges and are prosecuting
  • Your future - Everyone else gets their dream career/job/college except for you, because you participated in a challenge that became popular online and hurt someone, something or broke the law and they don’t want to be associated with that type of behavior

Social media challenge dangers in the news

dangerous social media challenges were an unfounded media panic, until the Blackout Challenge We've become accustomed to overblown concern around viral online challenges that supposedly present a danger to childre but Tiktok has found itself in legal action over one so-called challenge
The more recent suit says that TikTok not only specifically targets children in its advertising and is designed to be addictive, but that it has also ‘specifically curated and determined that these blackout challenge videos – videos featuring users who purposefully strangulate themselves until losing consciousness – are appropriate and fitting for small children’. - i news
Very dangerous: police considering harsher penalties for social media challenges
Young said after this latest event, it doesn't appear students are getting the message. Now, police said they're thinking about pursuing juvenile petitions, which could lead to a student being detained in juvenile detention, probation or under supervision by the juvenile system. - WRAL
TikTok conducts new research into harmful trends and challenges with a view to improving safety measures
Over time, this has become a key area of concern for the app. Last year, in Italy, a 10- year-old girl died after taking part in a ‘blackout challenge’ in the app, which lead to Italian authorities forcing TikTok to block the accounts of any users whose age it could not verify. The popular ‘Milk Crate Challenge’, which trended earlier this year, also saw many people suffer serious injury after trying to climb stacks of plastic crates, while other concerning trends include the ‘Benadryl challenge’, full face wax, the ‘back cracking challenge’ and more. - Social Media Today
OBrien middle school principal blames social media for uptick in fighting at school
‘Social media trends and challenges that have been occurring nationwide have created a forum for students to do things that may not be a great choice and post them somewhere where they get negative peer attention, but they get attention, and because of that culture and because this is something that happens outside of our walls, we are unable to control that,’ said the high school principal - News 4, Reno, NV

Why should parents & educators care?


  • Social media challenges often put the participant and/or people around them in physical danger
  • Short videos on social media don’t show enough about the after-effects of an act for students to understand the long-term consequences of what might seem funny at the moment
  • Many challenges start on TikTok, but even if your student doesn’t have a TikTok account they may still see the challenge videos as they spread quickly to other social media platforms like YouTube or Instagram
  • Many social media challenges encourage students to ingest non-food substances, overdose on medication, or create a physical challenge that can hurt participants
  • Social media users can quickly become focused on the number of followers or likes on social media and forget to consider their privacy and personal safety from strangers who may connect with them
  • While many social media platforms  eventually filter or block content with hashtags or topics known to be dangerous or illegal, it often doesn’t happen until the challenge has spread widely and students are already talking about the challenge and may still participate even if their posts are filtered or blocked. Social media challenges create a lot of views, which equals advertising money for social media companies
  • Some research studies suggest a link between depression and the likelihood of a student participating in a dangerous challenge (Source: Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics)

What can parents & educators do?

  • Parents should follow their kids on social media to see what they are posting and what social media challenges they may be participating in (see the SmartSocial  Social Media and Cell Phone Agreement resources for a framework of how to set expectations on social media as a family)
  • Talk with your students frequently about peer pressure, even on social media, and develop strategies together to recognize when their actions are being driven by pressure vs. their own interests or goals
  • Help students recognize where they feel the most validated, other than through social media likes and follows, and make a plan to help see positive reinforcement in their lives
  • Ask your students often what they are seeing or liking on social media
  • When a new social media challenge is trending, ask the students why they think it’s funny or interesting and talk through the planning and aftermath of the challenge that the videos do not show
  • Help students identify social media accounts that are positive, encouraging, and provide mentorship in their lives vs. influence towards negative actions
  • Every social media challenge is unique, so the potential dangers are different for each one. Keep open communication with students to help develop their critical thinking and decision making skills using social media interests as their “real-life” examples
  • Remind students that other users can easily find ways to share anything they post on social media, even if they think they have a private account or have no-share settings on their posts
  • Try to not tell students what you think they “should do,” but rather help them understand dangers and how to make decisions for themselves
  • Encourage students to find social media challenges that are about positivity and gratitude to share on their page
  • If students seem to not understand peer pressure or repeatedly take unnecessary risks for social media challenges, consider seeking counseling through their school or other mental health resources
  • Get involved as an entire family.  Volunteer to recreate a fun dance routine together or brainstorm new ideas for a social media challenge

What can students do?

Warning from TikTok
  • If you (a student) see an interesting social media challenge you want to participate in, consider making a plan of how you’ll carry it out vs. “winging it”
  • Consider what might happen after you stop the camera (what others’ videos don’t show you)
  • ~Could someone get in trouble at school or with the law? Posting your video on social media could be the perfect evidence to prove you participated in something against school rules or the law
  • ~Could someone get physically injured? Is that risk worth social media views?
  • ~Is there something that would need to be cleaned up after your attempt? Who will do it?
  • Before posting anything on social media, always ask yourself: how would this video contribute to my online reputation? Even if your account names don’t personally identify you, anything can spread on the internet and easily be connected back to you
  • If your friends are participating in dangerous social media challenges (like taking medication or eating non-food substances) talk with a trusted adult like a school counselor or your parent immediately to make sure your friends get help 
  • Think twice about who you follow on social media or what types of posts you like. When you show interest in a topic or type of user, the social media algorithms use that information to develop what they think you want to see in your feed

Recent popular social media trends

Click here for a complete list of SmartSocial guides for social media trends

Click on any of these challenges to read more! 

Blackout Challenge (Popular in 2022)

Kia Boys Challenge (Popular in 2022)

One Chip Challenge (Popular in 2022)

No Budge Challenge (Popular in 2021)

Bathroom Vandalism Challenge (Popular in 2021)

Milk Crate Challenge (Popular in 2021) 

Silhouette Challenge (Popular in 2021)

Benadryl Challenge (Popular in 2021)


Social media challenges can give viewers a good laugh: but at whose expense? Students feel great pressure from in-person friends and online trends to participate in what’s currently popular on social media and may not think through the full repercussions of participating in viral challenges.

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