Viral Social Media Challenges

Guide for parents

Sections in this Guide

by Kristelle Lavallee Collins and Jill R. Kavanaugh

an adult and child cook together in front of a phone
a young adult records a dance with a phone

What are viral social media challenges?

Viral social media challenges typically involve users recording themselves performing unusual, dramatic, funny, or risky actions and sharing this content with others who can then perform the act themselves, thereby accepting, completing, and continuing to share the challenge. There are many different types of social media challenges including fashion challenges, family challenges, food challenges and more! Social media challenges are popular on apps such as TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. While many challenges can be harmless and fun, others encourage risky behavior and can lead to dangerous outcomes.

a young person laughs being shown a phone

Are there risks involved in participating in social media challenges?

Depending on the nature of the social media challenges, participants can experience negative outcomes including cyberbullying, physical harm, injuries, and even death. Risky challenges usually involve a physical component, such as taking risks with food in the cinnamon challenge and the Tide pod challenge.

Are there benefits involved in participating in viral social media challenges?

Some social media challenges can be harmless, fun, and for a good cause. For example, the ice bucket challenge helps raise money for a good cause, while growing a mustache for Movember helps raise awareness about men’s health issues. Participating in harmless social media challenges can be a fun and healthy way to connect friends and family, even those who live far away from each other.
a youth engages with the camera while streaming with a phone

Why do teens want to participate in social media challenges?

Adolescents want to be a part of viral social media challenges for a variety of reasons:

  • Enjoyment: They want to participate for the fun of it – whether trying something new, developing their skills or connecting with others.
  • Rewards: They want to gain more popularity, often in the form of followers, views, and likes on social media.
  • Peer influence: They see their friends or others in their age group participating and want to be a part of what they feel is normal teen behavior.
  • Perceived easiness: They think that the challenges are easy or at least doable and will have minimal harmful consequences.
  • Curiosity: They are curious about the challenge and want to participate to know more about what the challenge is all about.
a perent and child engage together looking at a phone

Ice Breakers

When you see something concerning, here are ways to get the conversation going.

It’s important to talk to your child about social media challenges, as they are likely seeing them, doing them, or hearing their friends talk about them. Before having a conversation, be sure to familiarize yourself with the social media platforms your teen uses and the content that they see, share themselves, and like to interact with. Choose a time to discuss social media challenges when you both are in good moods (not as part of an argument) and when you are able to listen to each other’s thoughts and respect each other’s feelings.

Below are some ice breakers to help you start the conversation:

If you see...

A challenge on a social media platform your teen uses…

Say this...

“I’ve been hearing a lot about _____ challenge, have you seen it? What do you and your friends think about it?”

If you see...

Your teen participating in a challenge that looks potentially dangerous…

Say this...

“Looks like you’re excited to be a part of this challenge, let’s take a break for a minute so you can tell me about what it is and we can decide whether or not you and others can participate in it safely.”

If you see...

Your teen is particularly interested in a group challenge…

Say this...

“Tell me more about this team challenge. Maybe it’s something fun we can do together.”

Be sure to tell your child that you are always there for them and that you have their health, safety, and wellbeing in mind. Encouraging your child to take part in challenges that are fun and for a cause they support, can be a great way to connect with them, especially if you participate in the challenge as well!