12-Year-Old Boy Brain Dead After Attempting TikTok’s “Blackout Challenge”

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TikTok is widely known for its crazy dances and fun lip-syncing videos. It’s also become a hugely popular platform for promoting a myriad of challenges. While some of these are hilariously entertaining, others are downright dangerous.

And it is one such challenge that has a family preparing to say goodbye to their son.

A 12-year-old Colorado boy has suffered severe brain damage after attempting the “Blackout Challenge” using a shoelace.

The challenge dares participants to choke themselves until they pass out. It is also known as the “Passout Challenge,” “Speed Dreaming,” and the “Choking Game.” 

Joshua’s twin brother found him unconscious in the bathroom on March 22. His parents believe that he witnessed the trend on social media and attempted it himself. Doctors have since declared him brain dead. 

In an interview with Fox19 News, his father, Haileyesus Zeryihun heartbreakingly said:

“(Doctors) told me the bad news that he’s not going to survive, he’s not going to make it. I was begging them on the floor, pleading to see if they can give me some time, not to give up on him. If I just give up on him, I feel like I’m just walking away from my son.”

Joshua is 12. He should be playing soccer and video games. He should be biking, skateboarding, and hanging out with his friends. He should be laughing at fart jokes, reading books, and experiencing his first crush.

Photo credit: Go Fund Me

He should be alive.

A family representative told the media,

Joshua has a love for people that you wouldn’t expect in a child. Since he was very young, he always expressed compassion for others. He would pray for people who were sick, stand up for others who were bullied at school, and practice CPR in case he ever needed to save someone else’s life.”

Instead, it was his life that needed saving. 

In sharing their story, Zeryihun hopes to enlighten other parents about the dangers of social media.

He told the Denver Channel:

“This is something that kids need to be given to be taught — to be counseled. Because this is a serious thing. It’s not a joke at all. And you can treat it as if somebody is holding a gun. This is how dangerous this is.”

While social media has certainly propelled its spread in popularity, this challenge is not new. It has been around for years.

I was in junior high in the mid-80s when kids started doing the pass-out challenge at recess. A kid would stand against the school wall while someone would push on his chest until he passed out, the goal being to get high through temporary asphyxiation.

The challenge eventually found its way to the internet and social media, and now? There are more than 95 MILLION results for “How to play pass out game.” And thanks to trending on TikTok, it has become much more prevalent to a whole new generation of kids. 

Sadly, Joshua’s story is not an isolated event. In the past two months, there have been two other deaths from the Blackout Challenge.

TWO.

On January 21, 2021, a 10-year-old girl in Italy died after attempting the challenge. She tied a belt around her neck and accidentally took her own life. Her death prompted the Italian data protection regulators to demand TikTok block underage users from using its app. TikTok complied with the order.

And on February 6, a 13-year-old Canadian boy also died as a result of trying the challenge. His mother, Melanie Anderson, has called for more stringent filtering on apps like TikTok and Snapchat. She believes they need to do better at “protecting children from exposure to dangerous content.” 

Kids’ brains are not fully developed. Their prefrontal cortex – the rational part of the brain – is still developing.

Which means kids do dumb shit.

They are constantly testing their boundaries while believing they are invincible. They seek thrills and the acceptance and adoration of their peers. They make bad choices and blindly follow stupid, potentially lethal trends.   

So what can parents do about it?

If you choose to let your kids use social media, be informed. While it’s impossible to stay on top of all of the crazy trends, know what your kids are accessing online. Use parental apps to observe and monitor what your children are up to.  

Talk with your kids.

Have open dialogues about what your children are seeing and hearing. If you hear about a challenge, chances are, your kids have too. It’s likely that their friends are trying it. It’s possible that they are as well.

Even if your children aren’t on TikTok or Snapchat or any other number of social media apps, they are probably being exposed to them by their peers. They know more than you think they do. 

While we can’t control everything, we can do our best to educate our children on the dangers of participating in these types of challenges. And hope that when faced with them, they just say no.  

So please, heed Zeryihun’s warning. A father who is about to have to do the unthinkable and say goodbye to his son. 

“I’m paying the price right now, I’m living the life, and I hate for other parents to go through this.”

Our hearts are absolutely breaking for this family. Here’s hoping no other parent will ever have to suffer the same tragedy.

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