A challenge to common sense

If the Internet had existed in the 1930s, when people flicked on their tablets and smart phones they’d no doubt have been inundated with posts of teenagers taking the “Goldfish Challenge.”

By the 1950s, social media feeds would have been littered with videos of rowdy teens stuffing themselves into phone booths and VW Bugs.

Adults would have rolled their eyes at the sheer foolishness of it all and moved on to check out the latest poodle skirt appliqués on Pinterest.

Bizarre behaviour, but ultimately harmless, they’d remark. In fact, swallowing live goldfish, as distasteful as the notion is, probably gave participants that little bit of extra protein their diets were lacking.

Fast forward to 2018 and witness the “Tide Pod Challenge,” which in addition to being as pointless as those that came before, has the added bonus of potentially making participants very sick or, worst-case scenario, dead.

Already, dozens have shown up in emergency rooms with such enticing symptoms as diarrhea, coughing spells and vomiting.

For years, the manufacturer has warned against ingesting the pods after toddlers got sick or died from eating the brightly coloured detergent packs.

These warnings have been amped up in recent weeks to catch the attention of teenagers as well as parents of young children.

Rather than curb the idiotic behaviour, the advisory seems to have led some to double down.

Whether it’s that sense of immortality that often accompanies youth, or a desire to create a bit of drama, it’s difficult to get inside the head of a teenager and understand exactly what would prompt them to ingest soap and chemicals for sport.

Experts chalk it up to brain science, noting that an underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex is what leads to questionable social behaviour and poor decision making in youths.

No wonder then, that it’s hard for us as adults to put ourselves in that mindset even though we were all once teenagers, too. The wiring is now complete, so we can’t see ourselves ever making decisions that would put our health in jeopardy for no discernible reason.

The experts go on to say that it’s about a thirst for notoriety — being internet famous, even temporarily. Additional warnings only serve to give the challenge the appeal of ‘forbidden fruit.’

If we really tried, I’m sure most of us could think of an incident or two in our own lives that we’re grateful weren’t saved for posterity.

Had cellphones and the Internet existed when I was a teenager, I probably would have changed my name and undergone extensive cosmetic surgery by now.

Growing up knowing a camera could be pointed at you during any waking moment must have a pretty profound effect on the psyche — particularly an underdeveloped one.

Rather than cringe when embarrassing behaviour is made public, perhaps it’s empowering to proudly claim that humiliating moment — and in some cases even up the ante — to prove just how little you care what people are saying about you.

Sometimes, it is best to let kids be kids and sort things out for themselves. But when that behaviour escalates to the point where their health and safety is at stake, it’s time for mom or dad to step in. The same experts say parents should talk to their kids about why they’re feeling they need to take part in something potentially harmful.

It’s a conversation, they say, that can lead to “a deeper discussion about decision making and online behaviours.”

In the short term, maybe it’s not enough just to tell them to stop eating soap.

Maybe they need to have their attention steered in another direction.

Perhaps by the 2020s, social media feeds will be littered with videos of rowdy teens stuffing themselves into Fido stores and Smart Cars.

But, parents, when you do sit down to have the talk with your teens, please, for the love of all that is holy, tell them to leave the detergent (and the goldfish) alone.

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