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Viral challenges, an endless spiral?

21% of young people between 13 and 19 years old have participated in online challenges, 14% of those surveyed were between 13 and 15 years old and 9% were young people between 18 and 19 years old. And 2% claim to have done challenges that they themselves consider dangerous. They are all data from a study promoted by the TikTok social network and that highlight the ‘cult’ for viral challenges among adolescents and pre-adolescents.

Regarding this phenomenon, the UOC’s Law and Political Science Studies professor and researcher with the VICRIM-Criminal Justice System group, Irene Montiel, describes that “a challenge is a difficult or risky situation that puts us to the test and we know, for sure, if we are going to be able to overcome it”, while we speak of a viral challenge when “this situation occurs through the internet -normally in social networks- and a chain effect is produced, that is, someone launches a challenge and if it is of interest it begins to circulate massively, then many people begin to do it and share it on the platforms».

In this sense, a viral challenge puts us to the test, but it does not mean that it is always dangerous. In this regard, the specialist states that “there are many challenges that are solidarity-based or that have a social component, that is, they do not necessarily entail a risk to the physical or psychological health of those who practice it; instead, it is the really dangerous ones that we should be most concerned about.” In the case of Spain, data from a recent study by the International University of La Rioja indicate that “80% have carried out viral challenges of a social nature – which do not entail any danger for the participants and have a social or family component. –, 20% have carried out charitable challenges (for a social or aid cause) and 8% have completed dangerous challenges, that is, those that put people’s lives or physical or psychological integrity at risk.


As for why young people are attracted to viral challenges, the first reason is that they are produced through social networks. “Young people are the main users of these platforms, that is, it is their playing field,” says Irene Montiel. Secondly, the expert details that “at the maturational level, in the preadolescence and adolescence stage, an important cerebral reorganization takes place, when young people are mainly moved by the search for immediate pleasure and social approval and the feeling of belonging to the group ». He goes on to explain that “the part of the brain that is responsible for controlling impulses, planning and thinking about the consequences of actions is the prefrontal cortex, which is not developed at this stage, so adolescents move more towards the emotional generated by the limbic system.

To all this, it is added that adolescence is the stage in which “the adolescent forms his identity and, for this, he needs to constantly test himself, that is, the assumption of risks is something normative at this stage”. But, he warns that “many of the viral challenges put the comprehensive health of minors at risk, and for this reason they are so worrying.”

As for which adolescents are more vulnerable, the expert says that “we could speak of a greater vulnerability among adolescents who need, in an extreme way, the approval of others.” “These people believe that in social networks and through challenges they can get more likes, which not only offer them this social approval, but also produce a continuous discharge of dopamine in the brain, which activates the reward system that exists in our brain”, details the professor of Law Studies.

identify the hazard

How can we warn that a viral challenge is dangerous? Irene Montiel describes that “the main characteristic is that it puts physical or mental health at risk. For example, all the challenges that promote the physical aggression of another person, such as ‘The hunt for the posh’, obviously put health at risk and constitute an aggression, becoming a crime; also those challenges that pose a risk to one’s own health, such as consuming certain substances; or that have to do with self-injurious behavior, such as the ‘Momo Challenge’ or ‘The Blue Whale’, which are the most dangerous».

Examples that show that a viral challenge is not always a harmless game. “Although not all viral challenges are dangerous, many are and, as they are presented as a game, the boy or girl may not know the consequences that may result, such as the effects of taking certain substances that can reach cause death,” says Irene Montiel.

Regarding how families and schools should act, the expert says that “the most important thing is to know their existence and eliminate some beliefs, such as thinking that only children with a more problematic profile are the ones who do them, when in reality there are many adolescents who are perfectly integrated and are involved in these situations because they want to please.

In addition, he continues explaining, “it is relevant that families exercise mediation strategies on the use of the Internet – they must know in which social networks their children have profiles, if they are appropriate according to age -, etc.”

In conclusion, “the fundamental thing is to establish fluid communication between parents and children, so that they know the consequences that viral challenges can have.”

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