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Kids Today Aren't More Stupid: It's Just That Today Dumb Is Forever

Teresa Pelham
Special to The Courant

Nobody in Texas or even the next town over knew that my dumb friends and I, at the age of 15 or so, attempted what it now called “The Choking Game,” which essentially deprives one’s brain of oxygen for a brief moment. No videos were taken, and our stupidity didn’t make the evening news.

The Tide Pod Challenge is just as stupid, but parents are way more obsessed with it since it’s impossible not to come across stories of teenagers willingly eating laundry pods. We’ve shared news stories and public service announcements by Sportsball Player Rob Gronkowski because of the ease of clicking “share” on social media.

Last week Fox News ran a segment that required bringing in a camera-ready family doctor and a handsome psychotherapist (who happens to be hawking a book) to talk about this phenomenon, which began as a joke in a satirical publication after young children tragically ingested the pods, thinking they were candy.

Are kids doing more dumb things these days than we did? Or are they just taking videos and sharing their stupidity online? (Google and YouTube are now removing all laundry-pod challenge videos.)

If we had the knowledge of the Somebody Kardashian Jenner Lip Challenge back in the 1980s, there’s a good chance my friends and I would have tried it. But who would have known? Today, dumb is forever.

Kids all over the country were doing that hyperventilation thing 40 years ago — at least 82 young people died since 1995 as a result — but nobody’s parents were talking about it. Not to lessen the dangers of chewing on Tide Pods — caustic burns to the cheeks, esophagus and stomach, plus explosive diarrhea as a bonus — but of the 10 reported deaths associated with ingestion of laundry pods, eight were adults with cognitive impairments and two were toddlers.

NBC News Health Tweeted that “More adults have died from eating laundry pods than kids.”

Thirty nine cases of intentional ingestion were reported just in the first two weeks of this year, almost as many as in all 52 weeks of 2017. But, we’re told by the American Association of Poison Control Centers, the number of accidental laundry-pod poisoning incidents went down from 11,500 in 2016 to 10,500 in 2017.

Call me practical, but if my kids were still little yet somehow able to access my laundry soap or if I had a person living with dementia in my home, I’d likely avoid purchasing these pods.

We in the media like to blow things out of proportion, so stories like this have an extended shelf life. It ultimately makes us all neurotic about things that we really shouldn’t be worried about. Young American women are not abducted in Aruba very often, but the media — TV news in particular — will air stories on each anniversary of the tragic disappearance and with every newly released detail. It ends up making us think there are a lot more bad guys out there than there really are. FBI statistics show a 40 percent drop in the number of missing person reports involving a minor since 1997. But definitely, don’t let your kids play outside alone.

Today’s teens don’t have a monopoly on stupidity. We did equally moronic things but there were no news stories shared on social media and talked about on the “Today” show. Teens have 24-hour access to devices that not only enable them to make videos but also share with the whole world within seconds. Just imagine what my dumb friends and I could have done with that platform for self-absorption.

Teresa M. Pelham is a Farmington-based writer. She is the author of three children’s books, and frequently visits schools with her therapy dog to share her message about animal rescue. Contact Teresa at tpelham@comcast.net.

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