FEARS were last night growing over a Facebook craze sweeping the country after a teenager triggered a lifeboat alert by threatening to jump off Saltburn pier.
The teenager had posted his intention after taking part in a game of NekNominate - the social media craze that sees particpants filming themselves doing risky stunts, often after they have been drinking.
Although he was later found to be still at home, the craze has already seen other young people carrying out potentially dangerous feats.
The Northern Echo revealed yesterday how a 21-year-old woman rode her horse through a supermarket.
Inky Ralph defended her actions as "harmless" after riding her horse Harvey around Tesco in St Helen Auckland, Bishop Auckland, on Monday.
Last night it emerged that a youngster from the region had tried to set his hair on fire for a dare.
Humber coastguard Bev Allen appealed to anyone tempted to take part: "Before accepting your mission please just stop and think about what you are doing.
"If you have been drinking your judgement will be impaired and you will be more likely to be overcome by the cold, dark sea. Your acceptance of the dare is highly likely to be life-threatening. Alcohol and sea water don't mix."
Counsellor Robert Fothergill, who works in schools across the region, warned that NekNomination could could force youngsters into a “life or death situation”.
Mr Fothergill, who runs the Footprints counselling service, said: "My fear is that, with children as young as seven on Facebook, younger people will inevitably be drawn into this craze.
"Kids don't realise how dangerous this can be. NekNomination is all about escalation - each stunt has to be more outrageous than the last. It doesn't take long before children and young adults are daring each other to take unacceptable risks."
Mr Fothergill cited a recent case where a North-East youngster had tried to set his hair on fire.
"Luckily, he had a damp towel by his side and was able to put it out. The worst he suffered was singed hair. But if he had panicked, or the towel had fallen off the table, the consequences could have been much, much worse.
"I have visited two schools this week and all the kids are talking about it. We have already seen two deaths in the Republic of Ireland. I'm afraid there could be more before this fad passes."
Mr Fothergill said that children with low self-esteem may feel pressurised into taking part: "Kids who want to be part of a crowd will do it just to win acceptance."
Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman has already condemned Facebook for not taking a tougher line with NekNomination pages. She urged the social network's management to "grow up".
Richmond School has also warned parents to be vigilant to ensure children are not drawn into a NekNomination ring.
Inky Ralph, who rode her horse through Tesco, in St Helen Auckland, was unrepentent last night.
“I have been called the unbeaten legend," she said. “I don’t regret doing it. It was a bit of fun and all in the name of being a good sport. I have made a lot of people happy."
Miss Ralph nominated a number of friends as she left Tesco on Monday (February 3) but she has revealed they have chosen not to carry out their challenges.
“They have decided what I did can’t be beaten,” she said.