Last week, an 11-year-old girl was at a friend’s house for a sleepover in the Bronx borough of New York, when the joyous event turned grave. Jamoneisha Merritt was asleep when another girl doused her with boiling water, leaving the middle schooler with severe burns to her face and neck.
It was the latest in a string of recent incidents that have involved kids being doused with hot water — whether self-inflicted or with a willing or unsuspecting participant — presumably due to the growing popularity of “hot water challenge” videos on YouTube.
Last year, a 10-year-old boy in North Carolina suffered second- and third-degree burns when he and his stepbrother attempted the “hot water challenge,” and an eight-year-old girl in Florida died last month from being dared to drink boiling water through a straw by her cousin. The girl’s mother claimed the two came up with the idea after watching a video on YouTube.
The “hot water challenge” first came about in 2014 on the heels of the “ice bucket challenge” (whose goal was to raise awareness for ALS), although it didn’t gain much traction at first. A number of videos have been posted to YouTube showing people dousing themselves with pots of boiling water but their veracity remains unclear.
One video from 2014 that shows a YouTuber pouring a pot of hot water on his head before jumping into a swimming pool was recently captioned with the following disclaimer:
“THIS IS FAKE. The water I dumped on myself was pool water and the sizzling noise was a sound effect I edited. I made this video when I was 16 years old in 2014 when literally EVERYONE was doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I thought it would be funny to add some satire to the epidemic that was social media trends. Clearly, some people did not realize this, and today in 2017, kids are dumping boiling hot water on each other. I had no intention of influencing anyone or condoning this ‘hot water challenge.'”
It is unclear why this challenge has resurfaced in recent months.
“Unfortunately, this is part of the digital era we live in,” says Julie Romanowski, a Vancouver-based parenting expert who specializes in behaviour. “It’s not going to stop anytime soon, and parents need to take a proactive approach to teaching kids how to manage it.”
She advises taking a three-step approach to addressing appropriate behaviours around technology with kids. The first step is to choose what you as a parent want to accomplish, whether it’s limiting screen time or placing restrictions on what your kids can watch. Next, draw out this decision on a visual, like a calendar with screen times pencilled in or a whiteboard with clearly written instructions. Finally, sit down and discuss these boundaries with your kids explicitly.
And know how your kids are using this technology, how they’re consuming it, and what it’s doing to them in terms of attitude changes.
“Kids need to be validated through likes and views, and unfortunately, there is no moral code with technology,” she says. “Parents need to do more than just manage the content their kids are viewing. They also need to know how their child is using technology and whether there’s an addiction forming.”
This is a dangerous challenge and it is strongly advised to avoid trying it.