There is no getting away from the fact that young people often do foolish things. Sometimes, they do things that can be very destructive, without even realizing the potential for harm. Much of the time, these activities are engaged in as a way of gaining the admiration of their peers. One such activity that has been making the rounds for a number of years, and has even given rise to disturbing You Tube videos, is the “Eraser Challenge.”
What is the Eraser Challenge?
With the Eraser Challenge, the participant takes an ordinary eraser, and rubs it on his hand or forearm while reciting the alphabet. With each letter, the participant must come up with a word that begins with that letter. If you cant get to the end of the alphabet and form a word beginning with each letter, you fail. If you drop out because you cant stand the pain, you lose – unless someone else drops out before you do.
In a variation on the game, participants may simply rub their skin with the eraser, foregoing the alphabet component, until they cant stand it any longer. The participant who stays in the game the longest is usually the winner. Of course, you might not be rubbing the eraser hard enough, so in order to discourage cheating of that sort, the winner may be the one deemed by his or her peers to have the worst wound. Participants have been known to do this until the skin comes off and they begin to bleed.
Any number of disturbing “Eraser Challenge” images and videos can be found online. Often, young people photograph and record their injuries in an attempt at achieving some sort of fame. It is important to understand that this type of self-mutilation is very different from “cutting” and other destructive activities in that it is not obsessive-compulsive behavior – it is a means of establishing “cred.” It isnt a mental disorder; rather its a means of achieving peer recognition.
Sometimes, the injuries are minimal. There is, however, a great deal of potential for infections and permanent scarring. In extreme cases, there can be permanent loss of function. Simply stated, no one ever “wins” the Eraser Challenge. The potential for harm in both the short and the long term is serious. Parents, teachers and school nurses need to be vigilant, and look for signs that young people are participating in this harmful behavior, and doctors need to be able to ask the right questions so that when a teen presents with serious abrasions, they can determine whether an explanation like, “I fell and scraped my arm,” actually makes sense, or whether it is a case of deliberate self-harm to gain the admiration of ones peers.
There is probably no way of stopping young people from engaging in every sort of self-destructive behavior. Parents and others who are charged with the wellbeing of our teens, however, have to be aware of current trends in youthful “one-upmanship” and be able to respond effectively.