February 27, 2020
Clinical Contributors to this Story
Alexis M. Oram, M.D. contributes to topics such as Pediatrics.
Christine Greiss, D.O. contributes to topics such as Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
By Brianna McCabe
The internet is constantly crazed with new viral moments, trends and challenges. There was the bottle cap challenge, ALS ice bucket challenge, water bottle flip challenge and even mannequin challenge. But these challenges fizzle out (and seem like it was forever ago that it was even, well, a ‘thing’) once the mass world of social media users begins to push another challenge forward in popularity.
Some of these challenges, though, pose a serious health threat.
A new trending TikTok prank called the ‘skull breaker challenge’ involves two people fooling a third person into jumping into the air and kicking their feet out from under, causing the jumper to land on his or her back.
Potential dangers of the skull breaker challenge
Christine Greiss, D.O., director of the Concussion Program at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute and a parent of younger children, says, “The person mid-jump doesn’t have the reflexes to ‘break the fall’ with, say, your arms stretched out or even an elbow. Instead, the person rapidly loses balance and lands with every force of the body going directly to the head—and the effects can be life-changing.”
According to the expert, this blow to the head can lead to a concussion or a more severe brain injury and cause the following irreversible effects:
- Trouble thinking
- Difficulty speaking
- Inability to process information (visual, auditory, sensory or cognitive)
- Difficulty multitasking or even dual-tasking
- Rapid change in personality in terms of irritability, moodiness and/or depression
- Delusional issues
Signs of injury from the skull breaker challenge
Dr. Greiss explains that the first obvious sign is unresponsiveness or loss of consciousness. If this happens, she advises immediately seeking medical attention. “Experts will scan the brain to check for bleeding or excess swelling of the brain,” she adds.
However, if consciousness is not lost, Dr. Greiss warns that you can still be at risk for injury if the following symptoms are present:
- Language/speech problems
- Trouble balancing or coordinating
- Difficulty sensing direction
- Dazed, confused and/or disoriented
- Bleeding around the eyes or nose bridge (which, according to Dr. Greiss, is a sign of internal bleeding in the base of the skull)
The importance of brain health
“I don’t think most people recognize just how important brain health is until something goes wrong,” Dr. Greiss shares.
In fact, the brain is responsible for:
- Controlling the body’s daily functions (such as breathing and heart rate)
- Creating and coordinating actions and reactions
- Allowing us to think, feel and communicate
- Enabling us to have memories and feelings
“And the brain is special because we only have one,” adds Dr. Greiss. “It’s not one of those organs that we can transplant.”
Therefore, according to the expert, you want to keep your brain healthy and avoid sustaining multiple head injuries—as that can impair your body’s functions and decrease your life’s longevity.
The power of social media
Board certified pediatrician Alexis Oram, M.D., MBA, says, “Teens generally are impulsive and tend to gravitate to things that gain attention. They also have a lot of social pressures from peers and have a strong desire to fit in, be liked and be noticed. Unfortunately, social media tends to reward this type of dangerous behavior.”
While some challenges can be fun and even for a good cause, Dr. Oram explains that many—like the skull breaker challenge—are dangerous and even life threatening. “The problem is that teens have a developing immature brain, so they tend to act before thinking of the end result,” the pediatrician adds.
Both Dr. Greiss and Dr. Oram agree that teens need to ask themselves the following questions before jumping on a viral bandwagon:
- Could someone get hurt doing this?
- It is harmful physically or emotionally?
- What are some potential poor outcomes of partaking in this challenge?
- Who will this effect?
Parenting a teen in a social media-driven age
Dr. Oram stresses the importance of parents keeping a close eye on social media and staying educated on viral sensations. “The best way to do this is to build trust with your child and speak to him or her directly,” she recommends. “You can simply ask what types of viral challenges, fads and trends are popular.”
Additionally, Dr. Oram advises that parents ‘follow’ or ‘friend’ their teens’ social media profiles to better stay in the loop and offer guidance on potentially dangerous challenges.
- Find out how concussion diagnosis and recovery works.
- Get to know Dr. Greiss and Dr. Oram.
- Learn more about the Concussion Program at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute.
- Learn more about the raw emotions teens feel while using social media and how to help.
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.