In a world where troubling teen social media trends are a dime a dozen, it’s hard to take them all seriously. But one of the latest crazes to sweep teenage social media should have all parents deeply concerned. If you haven’t been paying attention to #JumpZooFenceSelfie, you better start now, because it is one of the most dangerous—and popular—hashtags to ever hit the internet.
In order to fully grasp its implications, one must first crack the code of what the hashtag really means. When a teenager posts the hashtag to Twitter or Instagram, it signifies that they have climbed over a fence at a zoo and entered the habitat of a captive animal—this is what is meant by JumpZooFence.
If this weren’t already concerning enough on its own, the Selfie portion of the hashtag requires the teenager to take a photograph of themselves posing with an animal.
Add all the pieces up, and it becomes clear that #JumpZooFenceSelfie involves trespassing into a zoo exhibit and taking a picture with a wild animal. And while the hashtag might have just started as innocent teenage fun, the stakes have recently grown higher and more perilous, which has many experts worried.
“It was mostly innocuous in the beginning, with kids taking pictures with gentle animals like tortoises and cranes, but the forces of peer pressure have really upped the ante,” said Dr. Brenda Swanson, a social researcher at Stanford University. “Now, to win the respect of your peers, you’re expected to pose with something dangerous, like a cobra or an alligator.”
The really scary part, however, is the number of teens getting involved. A recent poll showed that over 11 percent of teens have already participated in the hashtag and nearly 50 percent would consider trying it in the future.
The same poll also found that 78 percent of teens either agreed or strongly agreed that, if a cheetah were charging at them at 65 mph from a distance of 20 feet, they could take a selfie and climb out of the zoo exhibit quickly enough to escape harm.
While the hashtag might seem alluring at first, many teens are realizing in increasingly tragic ways that it simply isn’t worth it.
Sixteen-year-old Cleveland resident Shelby DeMeter—an honors student and star athlete—was hospitalized earlier this summer after being brutally attacked by chimpanzees. Now, she’s urging any kids who are thinking about participating in #JumpZooFenceSelfie to strongly reconsider.
“I used to think #JumpZooFenceSelfie was cool, but it’s just the latest in a series of dangerous teen trends,” said Shelby, citing #EatSomeForks and #RobAFootLocker as additional examples. “I hope other kids my age will hear my story and realize that, actually, sometimes climbing into a cage with huge wild animals isn’t all that fun.”
Here’s hoping her peers will listen—before it’s too late!