Laggan NSW – Australia: A heartbroken mother has urged parents to check their child’s social media activity after her teenage son tragically lost his life in what is believed to be a TikTok challenge gone wrong.
James Boyd-Gergely was just 14 years old when he was believed to have accidentally died after taking part in TikTok’s Blackout Challenge last year.
His mum, Vanessa Boyd, said her caring son had been living on a farm in the NSW town of Laagan, in the Southern Tablelands, in the height of covid lockdowns, when he was found dead on the front veranda on April 22, 2020.
Ms Boyd believes her son had been pressured into participating in the viral social media challenge, where users dare each other to choke themselves until they lose consciousness.
The terrifying trend, which has emerged on the video sharing platform in the past 12 months, has sparked outrage after it was revealed a 10-year-old girl from Italy and a 12-year-old boy from the US had died while taking part.
James had been home alone during covid-related school closures when he is believed to have tried to film himself carrying out a terrifying stunt.
There was nothing going on with self-harm in the lead up to that. The day he died, he did his chores and did his homework. He never would have done his homework if he was planning something like that. He seems to have been on TikTok that day and there was the choking challenge where a lot of teenage boys challenge each other to film themselves finding different ways to choke themselves to get some sort of euphoric feeling. He was out riding his motorbike that day. The fire was lit and he was playing music. It’s almost like it was a stunt gone wrong. There is no way in my mind that he would do that intentionally. He had a great group of friends at school, he was happy.Ms Boyd – Mum
Ms Boyd does not believe her son’s death was intentional, but was likely the result of peer pressure on social media and the result of being isolated during lockdown.
However, Ms Boyd stressed that it has not been officially confirmed that James was taking part in the challenge, and said his death was currently being examined by the Coroner.
Despite James struggling with bullying during part of his schooling, his mum said he did not suffer from depression and was a happy teenager.
She said a search of his phone uncovered James had been using TikTok on the day of his death, but it was yet to be confirmed if he was watching challenge videos.
Confirming the TikTok side of things is going to be hard. It took over three months to get into his phone, and after three months, TikTok resets itself, so we can’t see exactly what he was looking at. But we can see the last searches and that was on there. I’m a big supporter of Dolly’s Dream. I live rurally, I live that lifestyle and that was so shocking to me to read that story [about Dolly Everett’s suicide] when it came out.Ms Boyd
Ms Boyd urged parents to speak openly with their children about their social media usage, peer pressure and cyber-bullying.
It really affected me, but I never once thought to talk to my child about it; and the same thing happened at almost the same age to my child.
There needs to be more discussion as there is a big gap there that isn’t filled
Ms Boyd wished for her son to be remembered as a gentle giant, who adored his younger sisters and his beloved Rabbitohs.
Last month, TikTok introduced its Guardian’s Guide, designed to help parents engage with their child’s social media activity.
The guide is part of the platform’s refreshed online safety center in response to challenges parents face in the digital age.