Regardless of age, who hasn’t had dreams of flying? TikTok’s fairy-flying trend can pose potential risk to people struggling with mental health issues. In this Parade article, Mindpath Health’s Zishan Khan, MD, provides parents tips to keep children safe from the influence of social media.
TikTok’s new “fairy-flying” trend has an innocent-sounding name. The videos with over 66 million views feature users seemingly floating in the air. To some, it may look like a stunt. However, mental health professionals are concerned that it may trigger individuals with a history or an increased risk of experiencing suicidal ideation.
What is the fairy-flying trend?
Fairy-flying is a TikTok trend with nearly 70K video views. “The fairy flying trend involves people showing themselves looking as if they are floating,” says Amy Morin, LCSW, a psychotherapist and the host of the Mentally Stronger with Therapist Amy Morin podcast.
Though the fairy-flying TikTok trend has experts alarmed for its potential to trigger suicidal ideation, that likely wasn’t the intent.
“The fairy-flying trend initially gained momentum partly because of the more innocent nature of the challenge being presented as magical and pleasant,” says Jaren Doby, MSW, LCSW.
Like any social media trend, fairy-flying caught fire thanks to TikTok’s algorithm.
“The algorithm understands that many people interact through comments, likes and shares, so the video appears on more people’s feeds,” explains Zishan Khan, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist at Mindpath Health. “Now that it is officially trending, people, many of whom would never have bothered watching a video of someone pretending to suspend their body in the air like a fairy, have become more curious about what the hype is all about.”
Dr. Khan explains that these people are being shown the video, watching it, interacting with it and continuing to widen the fairy-flying trend’s ripple effect and reach.
Why mental health providers are concerned about the fairy-flying trend
For some TikTok users, the fairy-flying trend may feel innocent and fun. However, mental health providers are concerned that some may interpret “flying” as something darker.
“Most images and videos don’t include their head, so while it’s meant to look as though they are flying, they also look as though they might be hanging,” Morin explains.
Experts are worried these videos may cause harm to vulnerable users.
“For individuals at risk of suicide, certain sensory inputs, particularly those that amplify or intensify existing risk factors, can be triggering,” says Alex Karydi, Ph.D.
Indeed, a 2023 review indicated that viewing online images of self-harm could have harmful effects. The authors noted the clinical importance of evaluating a person’s access to images associated with self-harm and suicide, as well as pre-existing factors that may increase a person’s risk of being harmed by this type of content.
“The problem is that something like this isn’t as simple as pouring a bucket of ice water over yourself, such as the challenge from 2014-2015, raising money for ALS,” Dr. Khan says. “This trend is more complicated to accomplish and can result in a person hurting or injuring themselves in an attempt to pull off the feat.”
5 tips to protect your mental health on social media
1. Contact a crisis hotline
First things first, if you or someone you know are experiencing thoughts of suicide, you are not alone. Help is available. The number for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is 988.
2. Reach for a healthy coping skill
Developing various ways to cope can help you pivot after noticing triggering content.
“Coloring a picture, reading a book, calling a friend, exercising or deep breathing are just a few examples,” Morin says.
3. Practice self-awareness
Unfortunately, algorithms will likely show you content that elicits an emotional reaction. It’s the nature of the beast, and it doesn’t make it right. You can only control what you can, though—yourself.
“Recognize when certain content triggers negative feelings or anxiety and take a step back if needed,” Dr. Karydi says.
4. Be proactive
Think before you click follow, and don’t feel a single ounce of shame for liberally muting, blocking and unfollowing accounts.
5. Establish limits
Avoid mindless and doom scrolling.
“When you’re tempted to reach for your phone, ask yourself how you’re feeling. Are you bored? Lonely? Anxious,” Morin says.
If you need help keeping your phone further than arm’s reach, you may need to set some boundaries for yourself.
5 tips for parents concerned about the fairy-flying trend
1. Use parental controls to limit screentime and content
TikTok allows parents to restrict content using “Restricted Mode.”
While it may be an unpopular decision with your teen to use this mode, Dr. Khan says parental controls are useful.
“If you properly check your child’s feed on these platforms for content you disapprove of, you can more effectively limit their exposure to things that can cause harm,” Dr. Khan says.
2. Encourage them to follow positive role models
Not all content on social media is harmful. Some may be inspirational or motivational.
“Encourage youth to follow influencers and accounts that promote positivity, mental health awareness and constructive content,” Dr. Karydi says.
3. Be mindful of their friend group
Social media allows teens to interact with strangers. But the people they’re hanging out with IRL may influence how they behave online—with people they do or do not know.
“Kids are highly impressionable and will be influenced by those they come into close contact with,” Dr. Khan says. “If you work to ensure they spend their time with those that you feel positively influence them, it is less likely that you will find them taking part in inappropriate behaviors.”
4. Talk about it
Social media and mental health struggles may feel challenging to talk about with a teen, but doing so opens a line of communication.
“Whether you realize it or not, your child will follow your guidance, even though it may seem they purposely try to defy you, as we all go through a rebellious phase,” Dr. Khan says. “Discuss what can go wrong with performing such stunts: You can twist your ankle, break a leg or fall and concuss your head.”
5. Teach media literacy
During your discussions about viral trends, teach teens to think critically about content.
“Teach them to question the authenticity and potential impact of the information they encounter on social media,” Dr. Karydi says.