Sometimes it just takes a catchy meme or hashtag for something to become an internet craze. But virtual trends often have real results — as was unfortunately the case for the "salt and ice challenge." It spread virally, convincing huge numbers of people, mostly kids, to inflict serious burns on themselves.
The idea was to place some salt directly on your skin and then put an ice cube on top. The reason? Salt depresses the temperature of the ice to as low as -18ºF! This causes a second or third degree burn and can result in nerve damage, which the trend-follower won’t notice at the moment, due to the numbing effect of the cold.
Children were challenging each other to stand the pain for as long as they could. Then they’d upload photos of their burns to social media.
The mother of one teenager in England experienced this first hand. She took him to the doctor, who quickly realized that he had a serious burn. It had destroyed so many nerve endings over the area affected that the doctor considered doing a skin graft. "It could have gone septic and caused organ failure," the mother explained in alarm. Their doctor had never seen such a bad burn caused simply by an ice cube — and self-inflicted too.
Wanting to alert other parents to the risks, but preferring to stay anonymous to protect her son's reputation, she persuaded the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children to publish an article in their journal on the dangers of the trend, recommending that parents speak openly with their kids about the risks of following viral trends and surfing the internet in general.
"It's important for schools keep a close eye on all emerging trends. The rise of social media has contributed to increasing peer pressure amongst children and this 'craze' is another clear example of the risks."
Here’s an actual video of a girl attempting the challenge (but be warned — it’s disturbing to watch a kid deliberately hurt herself):
Since trends like this can spread just as virally on social media and sites like YouTube as more positive, life-affirming messages, the salt and ice challenge has had a global reach. Parents and schools all over the world have to face the rise of online networks as a powerful part of their children's lives.
Education shouldn’t focus exclusively on traditional subjects to the exclusion of life in the real world; kids need to learn how to use social media in a secure, healthy way. If you’re a parent, don’t wait to talk with your kids about staying smart online!