In April, the Haileyesus family buried their 12-year-old son, Joshua Haileyesus, after he participated in the infamous Black Out Challenge.
This is a well known challenge among teens and has been around the internet for a few years. According to Screenrant “the Blackout Challenge is almost purpose-designed to be dangerous, as it encourages users to choke themselves up until the point of losing consciousness while uploading the results to TikTok”.
Joshua tied a shoelace around his neck and in March, his twin brother found him passed out in his room.
Forteen days after being admitted and intubated, Joshua died in a Colorado children’s hospital. Upon hospitalisation, the doctors were doubtful he would make it.
Joshua’s father, Zerihun Haileysus, is speaking out on what happened to warn other parents about the dangers of social media challenges. Before his son’s death, Zerihun spoke to Denver News and said: “I would have never thought that he would do something like this.”
It scared him how easy it is for children to access this kind of content and participate in such dangerous challenges.
In January 2021, a 10-year-old Italian girl died after trying the same challenge. In 2015, a 15-year-old Pietermaritzburg girl died after participating in the so-called choking game.
The challenge uses other terms such as the pass-out challenge, or the choking game.
“This is not a joke or a game to play with,” Zerihun says.
Why do teens participate in dangerous social media challenges?
According to his father, Joshua was a big social media fan. He wanted to be an actor and submitted content online in pursuit of his dreams. He was also learning how to cook using YouTube. “He worked hard to impress me and impress everyone,” Zerihun said.
Popularity is a big deal for young people and being active on social media is a big deal. Challenges, when done correctly, can earn social media users likes and followers. People looking at creating a career out of social media, like Joshua, can easily participate in challenges.
Unfortunately, the younger they are, the more dangerous these challenges become. On the official GoFundMe set up for Joshua, his family said: “Joshua had been playing this dangerous game completely unaware of the risks involved.”
He had been practising and kept bragging to his twin brother that he would hold his breath for long periods.
TikTok age restriction
The age restriction for TikTok is 13. Users under that age can still use the app but have to lie about their age. Parents are advised to always know what apps their children are using, ensuring that they are not accessing content they are developmentally not ready for.