Two New Jersey teenagers have been charged after a failed attempt at the viral “skull breaker” challenge resulted in the hospitalization of a seventh-grader with a serious head injury and a seizure, prosecutors and family members said.
The two students, who have not been identified because of their age, were both charged with third-degree aggravated assault and third-degree endangering the welfare of a child after the January incident spurred by the internet craze, the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office told The Daily Beast.
While prosecutors wouldn’t provide details about the incident, the parents of the 13-year-old boy told local media outlets that their son, from Cherry Hill, suffered a concussion and subsequent seizure from the prank.
“He’s doing better, but he feels like he’s being punished because he can’t do the things he likes to do,” Stacy Shenker told Patch.com, noting her son still has concussion symptoms. “We need to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else. They’re 13-year-old boys, and they just don’t think.”
The injury is the latest in a series of mishaps spurred by the challenge, which is popular on the social media platform TikTok. It has prompted several local police stations across the nation to issue warnings against participating in the new craze.
Originally from Spain, the prank involves three people standing next to each other under the guise of learning a new dance move or to jump in a social media video. Instead, two or more people trick a third into jumping into the air—before kicking their feet out from under them and causing them to fall headfirst.
“The safety and well-being of our users is a top priority at TikTok and we do not allow content that encourages or replicates dangerous challenges that might lead to injury,” a spokesperson for TikTok told The Daily Beast in a statement, stressing that the video app did not inspire the challenge. “The behavior in question is a violation of our Community Guidelines and we will continue to remove this content from our platform. We encourage everyone to exercise caution in their behavior whether online or off.”
Last month, a 12-year-old Alabama boy broke his wrist after participating in the challenge at the Ozark Boys and Girls Club, his mother, Teri Smith, wrote on Facebook. Smith said her son was not an avid TikTok user and was “not prepared” when his friends asked him to stand in a line and take turns jumping on Feb.13. He was then knocked onto the gym floor and landed on his arm.
“All these little games they see on the internet, it’s not always fun. It can be dangerous. You have to think about what could happen. Kids are not going to think about that. That’s where the parents and teachers and adults have to think about that and try to educate the kids,” she later told WTVY.
Just over a week later, Ke’Avion Hearn was approached by a couple of classmates at Southeast Arkansas Preparatory High School who said, “all you got to do is jump.”
“I jumped, they kind of kicked me out under my legs so I can’t land. All I remember is being on the floor,” the teenager told KARK, who was hospitalized for a concussion after the incident.
An Arizona mother also wrote on Facebook earlier this month that her son was left with serious head and facial injuries after two classmates kicked him “as hard as they could” and laughed as “his stiff unconscious body lay on the asphalt.” Injuries have also been reported in Pennsylvania and Florida.
Dr. Sabrina Sykes, a psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says despite the known risks, children will continue to take part in these types of challenges because of the “wow factor.”
“New online challenges routinely spring up and rapidly spread over social media, particularly among adolescents and young adults,” Sykes explained in a blog post about the appeal of online challenges. “Social media, in turn, offers instant popularity among peers in the form of ‘likes’ and ‘followers,’ providing peer acceptance, buoying the teen’s self-concept and, therefore, enhancing the draw to participate in these challenges.”
Citing the still-developing prefrontal cortex for many teen’s inabilities to manage their impulses—combined with the fear of missing out—Sykes says the need to participate in the trend may cause teenagers to make irresponsible decisions and “gravitate toward thrill-seeking, without focusing on potential risks or consequences.”
But despite the dangerous trend that rivals the Tide Pod and Bird Box challenge, the charges against the two New Jersey teenagers are the first legal action taken against students participating in the craze.
In a letter to parents obtained by The Daily Beast, the Westfield Public School District issued a warning to parents in February about the dangerous social media challenge, noting the student injured in the replicated “prank” suffered “physically and emotionally.”
“Often, children act impulsively and without considering the consequence of their actions. If your child has an electronic device, ask them to share what apps they are viewing and using. Help them to understand the extreme unintended outcomes that may occur because of a fleeting moment of making a bad choice,” Dr. Joseph Meloche, Cherry Hill Superintendent of Schools said in the Feb. 27 letter.
Shenker, who has had a meeting with Meloche about the incident and has suggested an assembly to warn students about the consequences of these dangerous videos, told Patch.com they are still waiting to see the long-term effects the prank will have on their child.
“We don’t know what the long-term effects will be,” Shenker said. “If he’s still lethargic in six to eight months, then we’ll know, but as with any brain injury, you just can’t predict what’s going to happen. We just don’t want to see any more kids get injured.”