A viral Facebook post is calling attention to a dangerous game being played at schools around the country. The social media account of East Iredell Middle School in Statesville, North Carolina recently published a photo of a burn on a child’s arm—the result of the “eraser challenge,” the caption states.
“Kids are rubbing an eraser across their skin while having to do or say something,” the post continues. “It’s causing serious burns and we’ve seen several cases of this at EIMS.”
School-age children burning themselves with erasers may be nothing new; several commenters on the post recall engaging in similar antics when they were younger. But thanks to the challenge’s spread on social media, as Today reported, it’s getting new attention and reaching a wider audience of vulnerable kids.
According to Today, one version of the dare involves children reciting the alphabet while rubbing the skin on their arm with an eraser. The goal is to not drop out first—even if the rubbing motion leads to burns and open wounds. “Social media is filled with videos of kids and teens filming themselves doing the challenge and wincing in pain,” the morning show reported.
Why, exactly, would kids want to harm themselves in this way? It seems like a combination of showing off and peer pressure, says Joelle Simpson, M.D., an emergency medicine and trauma physician at Children’s National Health System. Dr. Simpson hasn’t treated any patients with eraser burns herself, but she has heard about the phenomenon.
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“Peer pressure is no longer contained within the school yard, but it’s expanding into the virtual world of social media,” says Dr. Simpson. “Kids are always trying to up the ante when it comes to challenges like this, so it’s important for parents to be aware of what their children are engaging in.”
And while eraser burns may sound goofy, they’re nothing to laugh at. Like any other burn—from fire or another form of friction—they can be painful and lead to permanent scarring.
They can also be dangerous. “The skin is one of the largest components of the immune system; it’s our largest organ,” says Dr. Simpson. “And when you practice this challenge, it can compromise that barrier and leave you susceptible to catching an infection.” The risk is especially high for children who already have weakened immune systems because of other health conditions, she adds.
And serious issues have been reported: In 2015, KHSL-TV reported that a high-school student in California contracted toxic shock syndrome from a strep infection after doing the challenge.
If a parent does notice these types of burns on their children’s arms, Dr. Simpson recommends washing the area with soap and water, applying an antibiotic ointment like Neosporin, and following up with a doctor if it doesn’t start to heal in a few days.
Of course, this sort of injury isn’t necessarily something a child will go to their parents about willingly. “It’s always on the parent to be vigilant and engage in talking to a child about any unusual scars or marks they might notice,” says Dr. Simpson. “Parents shouldn’t ignore things like this; being upfront and having an open conversation about what happened, and why this happened, can help families avoid similar problems in the future.”