The Dangers of Students Participating in Social Media Challenges

Student vandalizing wall with graffiti

Adolescents may be tempted to participate in dangerous social media challenges because they see it as a way to fit in and gain attention. There are challenges that are completely harmless such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and the Mannequin Challenge. Other challenges involve illegal activities such as theft (Devious Licks Challenge) and assault (Slap a Teacher Contest).  

Many challenges can also cause disruptions to the learning environment and threaten the safety of everyone in school. For example, right before schools released for winter break, threats to schools across the U.S. were circulating via TikTok. The TikTok messages warned of school shootings and other violent acts on campuses on December 17.  Although the threats were deemed not credible, some schools closed, others increased police presence, and many kept a close watch for violence.  

Some other popular challenges can result in serious long-term injuries or even death. These include ones like the Tide Pod Challenge, Salt and Ice Challenge, and Cinnamon Challenge. 

  • The Tide Pod Challenge – involves consuming small packs of laundry detergent, which are poisonous and can be fatal. 
  • The Salt and Ice Challenge - involves applying salt and ice to one’s skin, which can result in serious burns.  
  • The Cinnamon Challenge - involves ingesting a spoonful of cinnamon, which can cause respiratory problems. 

What are the consequences?

Students caught making threats of violence can face severe consequences, including criminal charges. In response to the December 17 TikTok challenge, two Atlanta-area high school students were arrested and charged with making terroristic threats. Many other students across the nation have also been charged this year for threatening their schools.  

The consequences for participating in destructive or harmful social media challenges are similar. The Devious Licks Challenge is one that involves students participating in the destruction and/or theft of school property on video. This September, the Rocky River Police Department released a statement to notify parents about students participating in this challenge at 4 different schools within the district. The punishments vary depending on the amount of damage done, with students possibly facing out-of-school suspension and criminal charges. Damage caused to school property as a result of these challenges can be costly, therefore, schools must be prepared to handle these situations and try to prevent them from happening in the first place. 

Why do they do it?

According to Chief Craig Miller, former Chief of Police for Dallas ISD, threats made against schools tend to increase right before going on break. “They want to get out of finals or maybe they just want to get to their Christmas break earlier,” Chief Miller said in an interview with NBC-DFW. 

Teenagers tend to be impulsive, which may lead them to misbehave or participate in harmful challenges. On social media, it seems that the riskier the activity, the greater the potential for going viral. Furthermore, when teens see others participating in these dangerous challenges, they may be persuaded to participate as a result of wanting to fit in and follow the trend. Often, they may not even be aware of the side effects or consequences of a dangerous challenge. According to, it’s important to consider that teenagers don’t always think rationally because their brains are in the process of developing and won’t be fully developed until they reach their mid-20s. 

What can schools do?

As challenges become viral across the nation, it is likely that more students will attempt them. Schools should monitor social media posts to understand and anticipate which ones they may face. Schools can ask school resource officers (SROs) and staff to keep an eye out for anyone attempting to do a challenge. It’s also important schools have a multi-disciplinary threat assessment team that can respond to and thoroughly vet every threat. In some cases, it may be necessary for schools to cancel classes until it is deemed safe for students to return to campus. 

Schools must work with parents to inform students of the consequences associated with participating in harmful challenges, especially ones that encourage violence, and threats made to schools on social media. 

How can Raptor aid schools in their responses?

An effective emergency management system enables staff to request help in response to a dangerous situation. Whether it’s vandalism or an assault, Raptor Alert can help get you the assistance you need to address localized incidents. Request a demo from us today to learn more about how Raptor can help your school manage incidents related to social media challenges.