Water is wet. Boiling water is both wet and, well, boiling hot. You should know this. But if you’re young and impressionable and getting most of your intel from YouTube videos, we’ll give you a pass here and gently remind you that pouring boiling water on your skin, or drinking it straight through a straw, is a terrible idea. At least two kids have been hospitalized with severe burns, and an 8-year-old girl in Florida died due to complications from a boiling-water dare — and there’s a simmering moral panic about the YouTube dare “Hot Water Challenge” that is alleged to have encouraged them to do so.
What is the Hot Water Challenge, and where did it come from? “Challenges” are viral dares and pranks that YouTubers film themselves doing. They’re generally goofy — remember the “Mannequin Challenge,” in which teenagers created elaborate tableaux while frozen in place? — but sometimes dangerous. Usually, they arise virally, spread all over Twitter and YouTube, and then disappear. The Hot Water Challenge, however, doesn’t appear to be new, or really even very viral. There are videos dating back several years with titles like “Hand in Boiling Water Challenge! HOOOT!” and a few from earlier this year showing kids putting their hands under very hot tap water, but almost none with boiling water — and, significantly, none with more than a handful of views. A single, very graphic video that purports to show a girl throwing boiling water on her brother, and the resultant burns and scarring has been circulating, but it’s old, and it’s not clear that it shows a Hot Water Challenge so much as a badly misjudged prank. (If you’ve seen it recently, it’s because some news sites are recirculating it now that “Hot Water Challenge” is getting lots of search traffic.)
Nevertheless, the videos seem to have inspired some kids to undertake incredibly risky stunts with often tragic results. Four months ago, 8-year-old Ki’ari Pope was apparently dared to drink boiling water through a straw by her cousin, after they watched a video in which a YouTuber pretended to drink boiling water through a straw. Despite a surgery, Pope died earlier this week.
In North Carolina, 10-year-old Wesley Smith spent several days in the hospital after suffering second- and third-degree burns while doing the challenge with his stepbrother, according to his mother. His parents told WNCN he’ll need skin grafts to fully recover.
And in the Bronx, an 11-year-old named Jamoneish Merritt was hospitalized with burns on her face and body so bad that doctors won’t even let her look at them. She was doused with boiling water by a friend at a sleepover. Merritt’s mother has blamed the incident on the Hot Water Challenge; Merritt’s cousin said that Merritt “and her friend got into an argument and she told her if she goes to sleep they were going to do something to her.” (The 12-year-old who poured the water allegedly tried to take her own life after burning her friend, Gothamist reports. She has been charged with felony assault, NY1 reports.)
The Hot Water Challenge may not exactly be sweeping the internet, but it seems to have affected enough kids to cause serious harm in isolated cases, and the recent spike in kids attempting the challenge is certainly cause for some concern, particularly if you’re a parent. “Watch what your kids are doing on the internet,” Wesley Smith’s stepfather told WNCN. And make sure they know how dangerous boiling water is.