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What parents should know about the TikTok 'skull breaker challenge'

The cruel social media prank could lead to a broken back or concussion. That's why experts recommend talking to your kids about it.
Tik Tok media App Illustration
A new social media challenge is making the rounds on TikTok.Chesnot / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

In January, a TikTok video started making the rounds in Daytona Beach, Florida. In it, three students stand side by side, then jump together. But when the middle student leaps, the two students on the end stick out their legs, tripping the middle student, who crashes on the ground, according to the Daytona Beach News Journal.

While the News Journal says the video no longer exists, the Daytona Beach Police Department told TODAY Parents that two students are facing misdemeanor charges of battery and cyberbullying stemming from the prank. This is an example of what some call the “skull breaker challenge,” or “tripping jump challenge,” a social media dare in which two people trick a third into leaping into the air so they can knock them down.

While parents worry about the increasing coverage of the challenge and what it means for their children, the good news is it doesn't appear to be widespread. A few other cases have popped up, such as one that took place in a Miami Dade County public high school. The school district punished the students but the parents didn't press charges, according to a school spokesperson, who also shared a statement with TODAY Parents.

"As part of a recent disturbing national trend, students are participating in social media pranks to gain likes and followers, potentially at the expense of others. The behavior in this video demonstrates a lack of good judgment on the part of those involved and will not be tolerated by our district."

Some families have shared Facebook posts about their children's injuries after being duped by peers. TODAY Parents requested interviews but did not receive responses.

Yet, experts aren't surprised that people are getting hurt. As the name implies, it's dangerous.

“There are risks of pretty severe injuries. There are also risks of pretty minimal injuries, but we can't predict which one we're going to have,” Jennifer Hoekstra, injury prevention specialist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, told TODAY Parents.

But the experts also feel stunned by how cruel it is.

“It’s just appalling. This is horrible. It’s a very mean thing to do,” Mike Patrick, an emergency medicine physician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, told TODAY Parents.

Patrick said victims of the challenge could break various bones depending on how they fall. He suspects a lot of people will put their arms out to halt their fall but that will cause them to fracture their wrists and forearms. If they don’t react fast enough they could fall backward and smash their heads on the ground, causing a concussion.

“You could hit the back of your head and that could cause anything from a skull fracture to the brain bleed to a concussion and you can even have a neck injury,” he explained. "You can literally break your back.”

While many adults instantly know that something dubbed a skull breaker is inherently dangerous, Patrick said that teens don’t always get it. That’s because their brains aren’t quite developed.

“The frontal lobe of the brain really is maturing until the mid-20s,” he said. “One of the things that can occur is sort of snap judgments without necessarily thinking through all the potential consequences.”

Still, parents should talk to their children about the skull breaker challenge so they understand how harmful it can be.

“Let's educate them on the prevention of injuries. Don't jump. Don't do it to a friend. Don't kick someone's legs out,” Hoekstra said.

Patrick, who hosts a podcast called PediaCast about children's health, agrees.

“Just having transparent real conversations with your kids is always important,” he said. “A conversation will not put that idea into their heads.”