School kids during the Skullbreaker challenge. | Photo: Twitter
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Skullbreaker or the “tripping jump challenge” is the latest, most bizarre social media challenge that has left school kids with concussions, joint fractures, and spine injuries.

First popularised on TikTok, Skullbreaker involves two people jumping in the air and a third person joining in the middle. During the jump, the third person is kicked by the other two resulting in a fall. The goal is to either prank the person in the middle or they willingly join and try to avoid being tripped. In one video, a person actually loses consciousness and the other two drag his limp body off the floor.

Coming after the Kiki Challenge, BirdBox Challenge and the Blue Whale Challenge, one thing is clear: we live in an age of online exhibitionism where such acts reward you with clicks and perhaps encourages you to escalate the risk.

Of late, there is a clear correlation between the virality of a video and how hazardous the challenge is. What’s really jarring is that it’s projected as something funny, which perhaps means kids are not being shown the fine line between thrill and harm.

What’s worse is the one-dimensional media coverage in India that has reported it as a new “headache” for parents. But before we ask deeper questions on why media perceives such challenges in a certain way or why kids find them cool in the first place, it’s important to acknowledge that these fads are advancing in the direction of thrill and danger.

Also read: After Blue Whale Challenge, why India should now worry about Momo Challenge

Another worry for parents, teachers

The phenomenon has resulted in concerned parents and school authorities issuing warnings across Twitter and WhatsApp and sure enough, that’s the perspective Indian media houses have chosen to use. Most headlines read ‘Viral Skullbreaker challenge — why parents are worried’ or something to the effect, which shifts focus away from the larger trend of viral challenges that fetishise danger.

While Skullbreaker is a cause for concern, it limits our understanding when we look at it through an adult’s eyes. If we do the converse (look from an adolescent’s point of view), it seems in tandem with the invincibility fable — a psychological tendency among adolescents to engage in risk-taking behaviour. In short, indulging in harmful behaviour or escaping harm by the skin of your teeth is cool. Stealing your parents’ car for the night, skipping school or driving recklessly also fall into this category.

Therefore, instead of writing off Skullbreaker as yet another inexplicably stupid ‘thing’ that young people are doing, it needs to be viewed as part of a bigger pattern.

Also read: After Kiki challenge fiasco, Pakistan national carrier’s chief may be sacked

The bigger pattern: Documenting danger

With the #KikiChallenge in August 2018, people got out of moving cars, even on highways, and danced along the vehicle to rapper Drake’s song ‘In My Feelings’. In lieu of public safety, Spain, Egypt, Jordan, and the UAE banned the craze while in India, police in Chandigarh, Mumbai and Uttar Pradesh issued advisories. Bengaluru Police even warned that the challenge could land you “behind bars”.

With the #BirdBoxChallenge in January 2019, people blindfolded themselves and went about daily activities. The craze was inspired by the Netflix movie of the same name, starring Sandra Bullock, and got so out of hand that some people drove cars blindfolded and one 17-year-old in the US crashed her vehicle. It even prompted the streaming platform to put out a statement warning people against it.

The #BlueWhaleChallenge, by far the most extreme, was a “suicide game” that began in 2016 and involved a series of tasks spread out over 50 days where the last task was killing oneself. It led to “hundreds of deaths” worldwide, and almost claimed the life of a boy as young as 14 years in Mumbai had it not been for rescue authorities.

This is a clear shift from challenges like the 2016 #MannequinChallenge or the 2013 #HarlemShake. Some were often for a good cause, like the #IceBucketChallenge that helped raise awareness of ALS. You could argue that recent crazes like #WhatTheFluff and #BottleCapChallenge are harmless too, but they’re in the minority.

What’s also interesting is that young adults and even middle-aged people have attempted challenges like Kiki and BirdBox, which begs the question — do we ever grow out of the desire to be invincible?

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