As the parent of two teens, a recent headline caught my eye: “The ‘condom snorting challenge’ is every parent’s worst nightmare.”
Oh, good gracious, I thought. What fresh nonsense are teens into now?
I perused the article (just one of many), which details a “viral craze” on social media in which teens share videos of themselves sucking an unwrapped condom up through their nose and pulling it out of their mouth.
Yes, it’s absurd. Yes, it’s dangerous.
But no, it’s not the big new thing teens are doing across the country.
According to Snopes, most of the videos being shown in media reports on the “craze” are from years ago, when snorting condoms was kind of a fad — one that never really became widespread and petered out pretty quickly.
This video from ThinkTank discussed the challenge in 2013:
So apparently, my “worst nightmare” as a parent was sort of a thing for a little while a bunch of years ago and has now somehow gained new life through the media. Mmkay.
News outlets and social media like to run “look at this ridiculous teen craze” stories, but such stories don’t accurately represent the majority of teenagers.
Earlier this year, the Tide Pod Challenge was all over the news. The story was that teens were taking to social media with videos of themselves holding a Tide detergent pod in their mouths. Cue the gagging, puking, poisoning — and in some cases — hospitalization. Yay, evolution!
Stories of the challenge circulated widely, prompting Tide to release a plea not to eat their detergent pods and Youtube and Facebook to ban videos of people engaging in the challenge.
The stories also resulted in The People of the Internet making Tide Pod jokes on every story about young people and dismissing anything teens said about anything.
Yes, some teens really were eating Tide Pods. Yes, it’s reckless and dangerous.
But no, the vast majority of teens weren’t — and aren’t — that foolish.
When you do the math, it’s clear that these so-called fads are usually just a small number of kids amplified on the internet.
According to the Association for Poison Control, there were 86 incidents of intentional ingestion of laundry detergent pods by teens in the first three weeks of 2018. That’s a sharp increase from the year before, but still hardly an epidemic.
Let’s do some quick math.
There are more than 42 million adolescents in the United States. If 86 out of 42 million purposely “ate” a Tide pod, that means approximately 0.0002% of American adolescents did it. Even if 10 times that many actually tried it and didn’t get poisoned enough to make the official list, that would still only be 0.002% — that’s two thousandths of a percent.
While ingesting laundry detergent is clearly a bad idea, this does not appear to me to be a universal habit among teens — or even a moderately common one.
The contrast in the way teens are portrayed in the news in 2018 is striking.
The teens who’ve experienced gun violence and are channeling their energies into civic action have gotten a lot of press. And they should. What they’re doing is impressive, even if you disagree with their message. They’ve organized thousands, galvanized a movement, and effected real legislative change.
Those teens do not appear to be eating Tide pods and snorting condoms through their noses in their free time.
And those young people bear a much closer resemblance to most of the teenagers I know and have known than the handful of teens I’ve seen in these “viral” challenge videos.
I think teens are awesome. The ones I know are smart and principled. They know how to have fun and be silly without being dangerous or foolish. They care deeply about societal issues and are motivated to make the world a better place.
The teens in my life aren’t perfect, but they’re also not ingesting soap or pulling contraceptives through their nasal cavities.
Viral “crazes” make great headlines, but they don’t represent teens overall. And it’s insulting to young people to imply that they do.
My two teens roll their eyes every time one of these “fads” makes the headlines. They don’t know anyone who has done these kinds of challenges.
That’s not to say that no one does them — obviously, someone does or there wouldn’t be a story there. But some people do reckless things all the time in the adult world, too. That doesn’t mean we can ascribe that behavior to most (or even many) adults.
Everyone needs to just calm down a bit. The kids are all right.
In fact, teens are doing pretty great. According to the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, today’s teens smoke less, drink less, get pregnant less (probably because they’re having less sex), get into fights less, and generally make less trouble than my generation did. Yes, they have issues that we didn’t have due to social media, and they sometimes make questionable choices, like all teens have forever, but they’re not a bunch of sheep.
My teens are exceptional in my eyes, but I don’t believe they’re the exception. Let’s keep celebrating young people who are doing amazing things — and let’s stop treating this generation like they don’t know better than to eat laundry soap or shove rubber up their noses.
Because that’s simply not the case for the vast majority of them.