Teen “truth or dare” has taken on a digital twist recently on the North Shore, where a social media-delivered challenge has prompted some kids to participate in a stunt school officials warn could be hazardous.
In the fad, sometimes referred to as the “cold water challenge,” students nominate someone to jump into Lake Michigan, with the resulting escapades being recorded by friends and uploaded online. After some New Trier High School students were injured participating, district officials emailed parents recently, warning them of the dangers of leaping from the rocky shoreline.
“There’s been a fractured ankle and some stitches to the head, but luckily, no extremely serious injuries,” said New Trier High School spokeswoman Nicole Dizon. “It might seem like harmless fun, but jumping in Lake Michigan can be very dangerous, especially when there are no lifeguards on duty.”
Dizon said officials discovered the trend after teachers found students sharing videos of the lakefront antics on their phones. She said the high school’s athletic trainers also noticed a few teens with injuries they didn’t get from participating in sports.
Despite the popularity of charitable events like Chicago’s Polar Plunge – which recently featured a run into the lake by New Trier alum Rahm Emanuel and “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon — North Shore authorities say unsupervised teenagers participating in similar stunts can be dangerous.
Winnetka Police Chief Patrick Kreis said a group of teens allegedly was seen dashing into the water from the beach at Elder Lane Park during recent warm weather.
“New Trier High School students are bright individuals, and growing up near the lake, they should know it can be potentially dangerous, even when you’re just wading in shallow waters,” Kreis said. “But we need to draw the line between what is and isn’t reckless conduct, even if it certainly might be foolishness.”
Despite North Shore beaches being scheduled to open on Memorial Day weekend, water temperatures in Lake Michigan were recorded on Friday at 37 degrees, Kreis said. Staying in such cold water for too long can cause hypothermia, he said.
The trend troubles Steve Wilson, executive director of the Wilmette Park District. Wilson said the arrival of warm weather brings an array of issues as district employees try to keep residents enjoying the village’s expanse of lakefront safe.
“Our advice always is, you never jump in Lake Michigan, because you can’t see what’s below the surface,” Wilson said. “And you should never be entering the water except from the designated beaches, and when there are lifeguards on duty.”
He said even under perfect conditions, the lake isn’t 100 percent safe, adding:
“Any time you’re in Lake Michigan water, there’s always a risk.”