Michigan Boy, 12, Set on Fire by Friend for Social Media Challenge—Suffers Second Degree Burns

A12-year-old Michigan boy has been seriously burned after a friend set him on fire as part of a social media challenge.

Jason Cleary was at a friend's house on Saturday when he was sprayed with nail polish remover and set alight for the so-called "fire challenge," NBC affiliate WDIV reported. The schoolboy from Dearborn Heights, Michigan, was left with second degree burns and spent four days in hospital following the incident.

Thought to have emerged in 2010, according to the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center, the fire challenge involves spaying a flammable substance—like an aerosol deodorant or nail polish remover—on a person before setting it alight. All this is filmed, and posted online.

Recalling the incident, Cleary told WDIV: "The first time it was like a little tiny fire, then they swatted it out."

But when his friend set him on fire again, the flames engulfed his body, he said.

"They kept spraying it on me," Cleary said.

His mother Tabitha Cleary told WDIV she could hear her son screaming from his friend's house. She then saw her son on the back of his friend's bike with no shirt on.

"I start to freak out. 'Take him to the hospital, take him to the hospital.' I'm crying. He's crying," she said.

Following her son's ordeal, Cleary warned others not to be tempted to take part in such stunts.

"I just want everybody to know that these challenges, or whatever they're watching on YouTube, is not worth risking your life," she said. "My son got burned second-degree — and it could have been way worse."

"I can feel his pain. It's heartbreaking," she said.

Last December another child from Detroit was hospitalized after taking part in the same challenge.

Timiyah Landers, who was 12 at the time, poured rubbing alcohol on her body, before igniting the liquid. She was left with burns covering almost half of her body.

Her mother Brandi Owens told WJBK-TV: "These kids are trying these YouTube challenges. That's where they get this challenges is YouTube, and they're trying it with their friends."

A YouTube spokesperson told Newsweek at the time: "YouTube's Community guidelines prohibit content that's intended to encourage dangerous activities that have an inherent risk of physical harm or death. We remove flagged videos that violate our policies."

In January this year, YouTube unveiled changes to its community guidelines intended to crack down on dangerous pranks. The tech giant banned "extremely dangerous challenges" that "pose imminent risk of physical injury." "Dangerous or threatening pranks" that "lead victims to fear imminent serious physical danger, or that create serious emotional distress in minors," are also prohibited.

Dr. Lucy Wibbenmeyer of the University of Iowa burn unit told Newsweek she sees sporadic cases of fire injuries every year "spurned on by social media challenges."

Corinne Peek-Asa, associate dean for research for the University of Iowa College of Public Health and professor in the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, told Newsweek that teenagers are tempted to take part in dangerous challenges because their brains are "developmentally primed to challenge everything.

"One of their developmental cognitive jobs at that age is to figure out their own internal compass for risk taking, social placement, and how they fit into their world," she said.

Peek-Asa explained: "Their frontal lobe-which makes logical choices—can still be overwhelmed by their limoncellos system—the emotional center—so their choices often do not appear logical but are more emotional. The connections between the frontal lobe and Limbic system are just starting to mature, and this takes practice."

Her advice for worried parents was to simply talk to their kids. Young people are especially responsive to open ended questions rather than directives, she said.

"Ask them what they have heard about this challenge. Ask them if they would do it, and why. Ask them about the consequences they might expect, and what they think it would be like to suffer a burn injury.

"Parents can be very effective in helping teens think through potential consequences and encourage and motivate teens to come up with good choices through their own logical process," said Peek-Asa.

Wibbenmeyer advised parents to educate children about the dangers of fire and accelerants as early as possible.

"Fire needs to be respected as injuries are extremely painful and recovery can be lifelong," she said.

This article has been updated with comment from Professor Corinne Peek-Asa and Dr. Lucy Wibbenmeyer.

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A stock image shows a child in a hospital bed. A 12-year-old in Michigan was hospitalized after taking part in the so-called fire challenge. Getty

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