What Is the Blackout Challenge? Understanding the Dangerous TikTok Trend

Physical signs might indicate your child is trying the Blackout Challenge. Learn how to keep your kids safe.

The "Blackout Challenge," a social media trend, dares people to see how long they can hold their breath. At least nine children age 14 and under died after trying the challenge, which went viral in 2021.

Also known as the "Choking Game" or "Pass-Out Challenge," the Blackout Challenge goes back to at least 2008, a year when 82 children died from trying it. That year, most children who died were between the ages of 11 and 16, and cases occurred in 31 states. As the CDC explained it, "the choking game involves intentionally trying to choke oneself or another in an effort to obtain a brief euphoric state or 'high.'"

In 2021, the choking challenge resurfaced on TikTok as the "blackout challenge." TikTok blocked #BlackoutChallenge from its search engine.

Why Is the Blackout Challenge So Dangerous?

Within five minutes of low oxygen, brain cells begin to die. If someone is without oxygen for a longer period of time, it can eventually lead to coma, seizures, brain damage, and even death.

What Is the Blackout Challenge? , On the ride to school, the older girl shows the younger girl a new mobile app for the smart phone.
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Why Kids Try Dangerous Challenges

It's easy to think your child wouldn't attempt something like this, but research has found more kids are aware of these breathing-related challenges than people realize. A survey of eighth graders conducted by the Oregon Public Health Division in 2008 found that 36.2% of respondents had at least heard of the choking game, 30.4% had heard of someone participating in it, and 5.7% had actually tried it.

The survey also found that kids were more likely to participate in the challenge if they had mental health risk factors or engaged in substance abuse.

Children who tend to engage in attention-seeking behavior may also be more at risk for trying the challenge, said clinical psychologist Thea Gallagher, PsyD, an assistant professor at NYU Langone Health and co-host of the mental health-focused Mind in View podcast.

Signs Your Child Might Be Attempting the Blackout Challenge

The CDC lists the following as physical signs your child may be trying the Blackout Challenge or similar fainting challenges:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Marks on their neck
  • Severe headaches
  • Being disoriented after they spend time alone
  • Having ropes, scarves, and belts tied to bedroom furniture or doorknobs or found knotted on the floor
  • Having the unexplained presence of things like dog leashes, choke collars, and bungee cords

Keeping Kids Safe From Dangerous Challenges

Given that the Blackout Challenge—and other dangerous challenges—have circulated on social media, it's important to know how often your child uses social media and what they're using it for, Gallagher told Health. "You should try to be apprised of what the recent challenges are," said Gallagher. "Then, talk to your child about it."

In this case, Gallagher recommended asking your child if they've heard of the Blackout Challenge and then talking about why it's dangerous. "Focus on education," said Gallagher. Be honest, too, about what you're seeing and your own concerns. "In this case, talk to them about problems cutting off your airways and lack of oxygen, and what that can do to a child," said Gallagher.

If your child is younger, Gallagher recommended monitoring what your child is doing on social media and asking questions.

Parents and caregivers can help children navigate dangerous social media challenges by doing the following:

  1. Ask kids about the biggest challenges they’ve heard about in their circle of friends. Ask them what they think about the challenge.
  2. If your child mentions an interest in participating in a challenge, help them to think through each step of the challenge. Ask them to consider the worst outcome, why they would do it, and if it’s worth it.
  3. Be sure to "friend" your kids on social media to keep in touch with what goes on in their day-to-day lives.
  4. Asking questions about school trends, friends and fads may yield more answers than direct questions about their own activities.

If you feel that your child is using social media inappropriately or if you have concerns about their use, Gallagher pointed out that you can limit their use or stop it altogether. As always, you should feel comfortable with seeking additional help from your child's pediatrician. Pediatricians can speak with your child and you about the dangers of such challenges and how to use social media in a safe way.

A Quick Review

Dangerous trends like the Blackout Challenge are more accessible to children as their use of the internet increases. Parents and caregivers should know the dangerous trends circulating on social media and, most importantly, should have open conversations with children about the dangers of such trends.

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4 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Women’s Health. “Another Potential ‘Blackout Challenge’ Victim Has Died—This Time In Scotland,” September 1, 2022. https://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/a38603617/blackout-challenge-tiktok-2021/.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Press Release.

  3. NINDS. Cerebral Hypoxia.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Dangerous Internet Challenges.

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