Teen death sparks recall and alarm regarding TikTok challenges

The rapid rise of TikTok has brought about a new era of entertainment and social interaction, especially among children and teenagers. The numbers skyrocketed during the pandemic, when many young people found themselves at home, craving the social interaction they once had at school. While TikTok offers a plethora of creative opportunities, it also presents a series of risks, particularly in the form of viral challenges.

Dennis Wolobah and a one chip challenge bag

Dennis Wolobah, 14, died after partaking in the Paqui One Chip Challange      Photo credit: Fox Business

What is the One Chip Challenge?

With the Paqui One-Chip Challenge, consumers are encouraged to eat a single tortilla chip spiced with two of the world’s hottest peppers. This challenge gained notoriety on social media, as participants forced themselves to endure the intense heat without drinking or eating anything for as long as possible, following consumption.

As you may have discovered, that challenge recently resulted in the death of a 14-year-old boy. As a result, Paqui has voluntarily pulled the product from shelves nationwide. Paqui also edited its warning language on its website.

How did the teen die from the One Chip Challenge?

While this teen’s death is still under investigation, medical experts have warned consumers about the high capsaicin concentration. This numbingly hot ingredient is found in pepper spray. When exposed to high doses of capsaicin, people can develop heart dysrhythmia or irreversible heart injury. The Paqui product was even recalled across Canada, due to high reports of adverse reactions.

Because of the fast-evolving nature of these trends and challenges, the public cannot rely on manufacturers or even regulatory agencies to respond, or respond quickly enough, to provide adequate safety measures for teens.

Some products are applied outside of their normal use, such as the infamous Tide Pod Challenge. But some manufacturers, like Paqui are cashing in on these trends with exclusive challenge-only products.

We’ll explore the dangers associated with TikTok challenges and provide guidance on how parents and guardians can protect their teens and children from potential harm.

Paqui One Chip Challenge

Photo credit: Peggie Neo/YouTube

Understanding the dangers of TikTok Challenges

Physical safety risks

Many TikTok challenges involve physical stunts or dares, which can lead to injuries or accidents. Examples include dangerous pranks, extreme sports challenges, risky stunts, and extreme food challenges performed for likes and views. The Paqui challenge falls into the latter category.

The chip is up to 1,000 times spicier than a jalapeño pepper. That level of spice can be extremely dangerous, especially for teens and children. While the chip packaging was labeled as an “adults only” challenge, there were no age restrictions on the purchase of the chip, meaning that anyone could buy the product.

Mental and emotional health

The constant pressure to participate in viral challenges and garner attention can have a detrimental impact on a teenager’s mental and emotional well-being. It can lead to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and even cyberbullying.

The challenges presented by TikTok encourage teens and children to film their participation, and there can be algorithm ramifications for profiles who do not engage in these trends. This means that if you don’t participate, your profile or videos might get fewer views.

TikTok’s algorithm in particular rewards trends. It does so by constantly changing what a user sees on their “For You” page (FYP), or home page, which contains the app’s recommendations for that user. Therefore, if two of your friends or individuals you follow have performed a challenge, you will likely see it on your FYP. Once you watch one of these videos, you will then have more videos showing that challenge on your page. That cycle continues and spreads.

Many teens who spend time on the app are caught up in quantitative popularity, where they tend to base their own self-worth on the number of likes, follows, and shares. It’s a dangerous mindset, and far removed from the reality of their lives outside of the app.

teen watching one chip challenge

Privacy Concerns

Sharing personal information and engaging in challenges that require the release of sensitive data can compromise your child’s privacy and expose them to online predators or identity theft. Examples include:

  • Where videos are filmed, such as particular high schools or junior high schools
  • Vehicles they use
  • Where they live
  • Name and contact information

TikTok is currently under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for inappropriately obtaining data from U.S. citizens.

Inappropriate content

TikTok challenges can sometimes veer into explicit or inappropriate territory, exposing minors to unsuitable material.

The Paqui challenge also falls into this category, where teens are encouraged to participate in a challenge that’s labeled by the manufacturer for “adults only.” Even with knowledge of the challenge, the product was not pulled from shelves or given an age-restricted purchase requirement.

Legal consequences

Some challenges may involve illegal activities, such as trespassing or harassment, potentially resulting in legal repercussions for those involved.

two girls dancing in a TikTok challenge

Ways to protect your teens from dangerous TikTok Challenges

  1. Open communication: Foster a safe and open environment for your children, so that they feel comfortable enough to discuss their online experiences. Encourage them to share any challenges or concerns they encounter on TikTok.
  2. Set boundaries: Establish clear guidelines for screen time and app usage. Monitor their activity on TikTok and educate them about responsible online behavior.
  3. Privacy settings: Help your children configure their TikTok accounts to ensure maximum privacy. Enable features such as private profiles and restricted commenting to control who can interact with them.
  4. Educate on content: Teach your children to identify and report inappropriate content or behavior. Encourage them to follow positive and educational content creators versus risky or stunt-style creators. There is no shortage of creative, expressive content that is a positive alternative to dangerous challenges.
  5. Monitor challenges: Stay informed about trending challenges on TikTok and discuss their potential risks with your children. Encourage them to avoid participating in dangerous or harmful challenges. Even discussing what challenges are popular with adults can help deter teens from participating in dangerous behavior. Encourage them to think about how adults view those challenges.
  6. Legal awareness: Explain the legal consequences of participating in unlawful challenges. Emphasize the importance of respecting laws and rules both online and offline. This is especially true when acts are recorded via video. Any challenge that encourages illegal behavior which is then filmed is doubly risky because they can be (unknowingly) providing evidence of their crimes.
  7. Seek professional help: If you notice signs of mental distress or excessive screen time, consider seeking guidance from a mental health professional or counselor.
Kids doing a dangerous TikTok challenge

Photo credit: Junkee

TikTok, like its contemporaries Instagram and Snapchat, can be an enjoyable platform for teenagers to express themselves creatively. But it also carries inherent dangers, especially in the form of viral challenges.

Many teens find that it’s a necessary outlet to deal with the challenges of adolescence and to form their own identities. However, we want to encourage responsible use through education. The best ways to do that are by fostering open communication, setting boundaries, and monitoring online activities. By taking these proactive steps, you can help ensure a safer and more positive online experience.

If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of a manufacturer’s challenge, Allen & Allen offers free and confidential case evaluations. To help us better understand your unique situation, call us today at 866-388-1307.