Jason Cleary, 12, is recovering from second-degree burns after being set ablaze for something called the “fire challenge.”
The Michigan boy was said to be playing at a friend’s house when he poured flammable liquid on himself and ignited it. His chin, chest and stomach were all severely burned, according to his mom, Tabitha Cleary.
“My son got burned second degree, and it could’ve been way worse,” Cleary said in an interview with CNN affiliate WDIV.
“I just want everybody to know that these challenges, or whatever they’re watching on YouTube, is not worth your risking your life.”
According to Jason, he and his friends tested the challenge once with a small fire before things escalated.
“The first time it was, like, a little, tiny fire, and they swatted it off,” he said. “Second time, they kept spraying on me.”
With nail polish remover all over Cleary’s body, the flame quickly engulfed him. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he was treated for four days.
Cleary has since been released and continues to recover at home. The local police confirmed to CNN that they are investigating the matter.
The “fire challenge” first made headlines in 2014, but people continue to experience severe injuries from it years later. The “fire challenge” is commonly attempted with the goal of filming the spectacle and uploading it to YouTube or another social media site.
In August 2018, a 12-year-old girl was placed in critical condition with second- and third-degree burns after attempting the challenge.
In 2014, a mom in North Carolina was arrested and charged after allegedly facilitating her 16-year-old son’s attempt at the “fire challenge.” She was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile.
In a statement regarding the August 2018 incident, YouTube said: “YouTube’s community guidelines prohibit content that’s intended to encourage dangerous activities that have an inherent risk of physical harm or death. We remove flagged videos that violate our policies.”
Dangerous internet challenges
This isn’t the first time the desire to go viral has led people to attempt dangerous internet challenges.
After the Netflix film Bird Box was released earlier this year, fans of the film concocted the “Bird Box challenge,” wherein they — or their children — were blindfolded and tried to do everyday things, despite not being able to see.
Netflix caught wind of the Bird Box challenge and issued a message to all users thinking of trying it, telling them to “not hurt themselves.”
In early 2018, social media feeds were consumed by one of the most terrifying challenges yet: the “Tide Pod challenge,” which saw teens eating laundry detergent pods and posting videos of their reactions to YouTube.
Toxic ingredients in the pods include ethanol, hydrogen peroxide and polymers, and ingestion can cause vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, drowsiness and nausea, as well as irritation and conjunctivitis if it gets in the eyes. If any of the detergent manages to get into the lungs, it can also cause respiratory distress.
In the end, both Facebook and YouTube pulled any and all videos relating to the challenge, citing an “inherent risk of physical harm.”
It might be shocking to hear that someone would willingly light themselves on fire or eat a toxic amount of laundry detergent, but according to Dr. Tony DeBono, a clinical psychologist at McMaster Children’s Hospital, young people’s brains are susceptible to these kinds of challenges.
“Teens are going through a tremendous amount of development, cognitively, biologically, so their ability to regulate impulses is somewhat impacted, and then there’s this issue around social connectedness,” he previously told Global News.
“People can do some pretty incredible things when they are doing it within the guise of wanting to be connected socially, both in terms of positivity and negativity. Social media can sometimes provide the illusion of that sort of connectedness.”
DeBono added that social media sends mixed messages about what’s acceptable for teens.
“You get an enormous amount of reinforcement through the ideas of likes and followers if you do participate so the idea of not participating can sometimes be a real challenge for people’s decision-making.”
DeBono suggests parents need to help their children see the bigger picture when it comes to using social media.
“I think the bigger questions that we need to face as a society are what are our values? What do we stand for? Are we having conversations with our teens about their values as opposed to some sense of fame or popularity?”
He added: “The question shouldn’t be why are teens consuming poisonous laundry detergent, the question should be what’s next? And why are folks searching for connectedness in these potentially dangerous ways?”
— With files from Global News’ Chris Jancelewicz and Slav Kornik
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.