There is a new social media challenge that officials are warning could have dire consequences if parents aren’t aware.
A new TikTok trend is prompting young people to slide a coin between a phone charger loosely plugged into an outlet and record the results.
It’s being called the #OutletChallenge or the #PennyChallenge, and several videos of it have been shared to the platform in recent days.
Most of the videos show coins being dropped between a charger and a wall outlet, causing large sparks of electricity. The people trying the challenge, typically kids or teens, can be seen jumping back or shrieking in response.
The Ontario Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) said no known injuries have been reported so far in the province, but officials are concerned.
“Electricity is unforgiving and no family should have to endure the pain of losing a loved one or their home because of a social media trend,” Dr. Joel Moody, chief public safety officer for the ESA, previously told Global News.
Multiple Ontario towns and cities, including Ajax and Waterloo, have issued statements warning residents about the dangerous challenge.
“Children are often curious and may not know how dangerous electricity is,” said Shelby Langer, a fire prevention inspector for the Town of Ajax.
“They need to know that this challenge is very dangerous. It can cause a painful shock, burn injury, and potentially a house fire.”
According to the ESA, 110 kids under the age of 15 go to the hospital for a “preventable” electrical injury every year in Ontario.
Unfortunately, said Mohit Rajhans, a Toronto-based media professional and member of the collective Dadspotting, social media challenges like this one are growing increasingly common, and if you have a child on social media, they could be at risk of attempting something life-threatening.
“We have to remember that our kids are digital natives … we’ve given them this extra backpack (a phone) that they carry around with them, and it’s loaded with tools,” he said.
They could have the tools, but that doesn’t mean they know how to use them — that’s where they need parental guidance.
However, to even start a conversation about social media and the peer pressure that could be lurking there, said Rajhans, you have to know at least a little about the media your kids are consuming.
Try the same apps as your kids
For Rajhans, the first step to parenting children in the digital age is accepting that social media is part of the deal.
“I realized that if I don’t understand the medium they’re on, I can’t tell them what they can and can’t do,” he said.
“Gone are the days of saying to people ‘don’t post this.'”
The turning point for Rajhans and his three children, aged 13, 10 and 9, was the Shiggy Challenge.
“We’re fans of hip hop music in general and the song was good … and the challenge was cute, because it was about a dance,” he said.
“But then, when people started to jump out of their cars and do the dance, that’s when we started to have that conversation about what people are doing for validity versus doing something to participate.”
The social media life-cycle
When it comes to life-threatening challenges, it’s important to put the risk in perspective for young people.
Start by asking them why they want to participate in something that could be dangerous.
Questions like, “what are you trying to gain by this?” and “why is it so important for you to “go viral?” could open the door to a more serious conversation, said Samantha Kemp-Jackson, parenting expert and host of the podcast Parenting Then and Now.
It can also be helpful to explain that, like everything else, this internet trend will also pass.
There are three opposing forces working on your kids in 2020, said Rajhans: you, the parent, saying “I don’t get it, try not to do it;” your child’s “natural need” to find validity on social media; and the ecosystem of social media.
“Parents can only do one of two things — we either turn a blind eye and we’re ignorant … or we get in the trenches and offer education,” he said.
To that end, parents need to at least try to understand what it’s like to be a young person on apps like TikTok. Only then, can they communicate effectively about peer pressure and how to mitigate it.
“You don’t teach your kids how to swim if you don’t know how to swim,” Rajhans said.
—With files from Global News’ Michael Furtado