SAN DIEGO — I was recently fumbling around on the internet, as we all do to pass the 20-minute train ride or the three-minute wait for dry cleaning, and found myself engrossed in TED talks by teenagers.
You know TED talks — those brainy but often pretentious lectures given by thought leaders in technology, entertainment and design. Well, a handful of super-impressive teenagers have done some truly incredible things — things like built a nuclear fusion reactor (don’t worry, it’s benevolent), or developed a test for pancreatic cancer, or combated child marriage.
If these kids are our future leaders, we’re in good hands. On the other hand, in a Venn diagram of teenagers, I’m betting there’s little to no overlap between these world-changing go-getters and the simple-minded dolts who are behind the so-called “Tide pod challenge,” a moronic attention-getting stunt where teens record themselves putting laundry pods in their mouths — incidentally, the last place you’d want to put one. Or at least, one of the last — but let’s not give them any dumb(er) ideas.
A spokesperson for the American Association of Poison Control Centers says that in the first 11 days of 2018, there had been 40 reported exposures to liquid laundry detergent pods by 13- to 19-year-olds, a group otherwise known as “should know better.” More than half of those have been deliberate.
In case you didn’t know that putting toxic chemicals in your mouth was unwise, here’s a doctor to spell it out. “They can cause burns in the mouth,” says Dr. Rais Vohra, a medical toxicologist at UCSF Fresno. “If the liquid bursts open and goes in the back of the throat, they could cause burns in the back of the throat which would necessitate an ER visit or even ICU admission.”
Duh. But try dishing out this cold, hard “science” to a generation that has also embarked on other such pioneering and noble journeys to answer important questions like: What happens when I snort a condom? And: How much powdered cinnamon can I ingest before needing to call poison control?
Poor Tide, which unwittingly finds itself at the lose-lose end of a terrible public relations nightmare, in which it must defend its product against the primal idiocy of suburban teenage ennui, at a time when laundry pods may be plentiful but good sense isn’t.
As adults, the easy response to this is to roll our eyes, shake our fists and yell “get off my lawn!” to those dumb kids.
But actually, there’s good news in all of this inanity.
As lamentable as social media can be for giving every would-be teenage idiot a platform to showcase their harebrained gags, it also gives the rest of us a way to instantly see and judge them.
Before YouTube and Snapchat and Instagram, we had little idea what dumb fads, subversive trends and dangerous pranks were sweeping the basements, mall food courts and parking lots across the country. When and if they ever surfaced, it was often too late for many caught up in the underground waves of peer pressure.
But thanks to this generation’s unique and timely obsession with DIY stardom and over-sharing, we know immediately, in real-time.
Look at the lightning-fast reaction to YouTube celebrity Logan Paul. On December 31, 2017, he posted a grotesque video of himself fooling around in front of a dead body in Japan’s “suicide forest.” Following immediate public outrage, on January 1, 2018 he took the video down and issued his first of several apologies.
By January 10, YouTube had removed Paul’s channels from its ad program, placed his YouTube film on hold, and cut him from the fourth season of his YouTube series “Foursome.” Justice in the age of oversharing is swift.
That’s good news for concerned parents, so long as they take the time to scour the nets for these latest fads and keep a watchful eye on their kids’ social media pages.
It’s also good news for the rest of us who are saddened by the perversion of our favorite laundry pod brand. Tide has unleashed none other than teenage kids’ favorite big kid, Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots, to tell them, in language they can understand, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no.”