What Are Social Media Challenges?

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December 15, 2021

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What you will learn in this course

What are social media challenges?

  • How social media challenges get started
  • Discover how users make their videos and what they add to make their videos popular even for strangers they don't know
  • Hear why students like social media challenges and why they might not see the dangers

Dangers of social media challenges in the news

  • Hear what doctors have to say about social media challenges and how they impact users physical and mental health
  • Read what principals and teachers say about the impact of challenges on their schools

What can parents & educators do?

  • Parents: Learn 12 tips on how to talk to your kids about social media challenges
  • Educators: Learn 5 tips of what you can do to help students think twice about social media challenges at school

Bonus: 5 tips to share with students

Login or join the SmartSocial VIP membership today to view all resources about 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.

Parent VIP Member

Quotation marks

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.


Director of College Advising

Educator Webinar Attendee

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


Irene C.

Educator Webinar Attendee

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Table of Contents

Going “viral” or getting more views/followers/likes on social media is often very tempting for kids who face peer pressure (in-person or online). Social media challenges and their respective hashtags are one way that social media users can often gain new views quickly. Many social media challenges pose 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. 

Parent & educator training video

What are social media challenges?

  • Social media challenges describe an activity or action for users to video record themselves recreating
  • Users often add a popular music track or text to the videos that match others in the particular challenge 
  • Participants 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)
  • Many times these challenges are pointless actions other than getting other social media users to watch your video and often 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

Examples of social media challenge dangers in the news

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

Educators report a rise in school threats, fights and misbehavior, Los Angeles Times
‘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 NBC, Reno, Nevada

Educators report a rise in school threats, fights, and misbehaviors
‘Our staff has seen an increase in fights between students and [are] concerned by incidents of sexual harassment between students, often stemming from social media challenges…’

Los Angeles Times

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
Example of #nobudge
  • 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 companies 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 (Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics)

What can parents & educators do?

  • 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
  • Parents can consider following 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 course for a framework of how to set expectations on social media as a family)
  • 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
  • Visit SmartSocial.com frequently to learn about the most current social media challenges (If you don’t see a Social Media Challenge you’re looking for, fill out this form to let us know!)

Bonus: What can students do?

When the milk crate challenge goes wrong...
Example of #milkcratechallenge
  • 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! 

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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