Challenging the Challenges

I have seen news coverage of the “latest” teen challenge craze, snorting condoms, and I can hold my peace no longer.   Here is a doctor’s warning about the risks associated with snorting condoms.  Again, I am shaking my head that we would even need to warn anyone that this is a stupid idea, on top of all the other warnings issued regarding gulping spoonfuls of cinnamon, eating Tide Pods, wrapping yourself in duct tape, car surfing, and choking yourself until you pass out.

It would seem that condom snorting is a resurrection of a fad first making the rounds in 2013.  It has made a reappearance along with bell bottom jeans, cold shoulder sweaters, jelly shoes, and many other things that should just stay in the past.  In my opinion, kids snorting condoms should wear them to guarantee they don’t breed, and the Tide Pod challenge should include a teenager doing his own laundry and putting it away.

But are teens alone in stupid challenges?  I think not.  Adults are just as guilty, men especially (come on guys, you know it’s true), of doing ridiculous things in rituals called “Hold My Beer” challenges.  These range from jumping off a roof using umbrellas as parachutes to roller-skating on frozen lakes.  Things I have personally witnessed grown men doing include:

  • The firecracker challenge: I am not kidding, I have seen grown men challenge each other to light firecrackers in the waistband of their pants … “to see what happens.”  I mean, honestly. What do they think is going to happen?? I can attest it’s about what you’d expect to have happen.
  • Chicken: I have witnessed versions of this classic played out in trucks, on four wheelers, and on tractors. It never ends well for the drivers or the vehicles of choice. And once, it ended really badly – in the form of a mud bath (it was in a field, so we were all hoping it was mud at any rate) – for a particularly well-dressed bystander who had not planned on said mud bath that evening.
  • Impossible Obstacle Challenge: Let’s pile some debris and boards together and jump them with bicycles, four-wheelers, motorcycles, or heck, even roller-skates and skate boards. One guy thought he would impersonate Superman — you know, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. What could go wrong? Broken bones. That’s what can go wrong. But hey, at least he held onto his beer.
  • The hot pepper challenge: My ex-husband and his friends used to see who could eat the hottest peppers whole. This was fun enough on its own, until wasabi became a thing and the challenge expanded to a whole new level. I think some of those guys still have clear sinuses even today. Of course, the subsequent ulcers are a constant reminder of the “good old days.”

With kids, this sort of behavior is really not too far out of the realm of somewhat kinda sorta normal … I mean, their brains and their impulse control are still developing. However, you’d think the adults would “know better.”  But they don’t. I do think that adults doing stupid things and teens doing stupid things comes down to a few similarities.  Boredom is probably a running theme for all of these challenges.  The need for recognition plays some part, as well; the people performing these challenges feel the need to be acknowledged for doing something, hell, ANYTHING, even if it is dumb.  I think another common trait among people who perform these stunts, adults and teens alike, is a pervasive feeling of invincibility. I’ve talked about this before. These people know that they are doing something stupid and dangerous, and they have read that people have been seriously hurt performing these stunts, but hey; it will never happen to me!

I think that every now and then, things are put into place to promote evolution; this is Darwinism at its finest.  Only the smartest and the strongest will be able to resist snorting a condom, therefore, only the smartest and strongest survive.  If they somehow survive the teenage round of stupidity, they will be tested again as adults in the “Hold My Beer” challenges.  After this, they are granted the wisdom needed to reach old age, and to impart that great wisdom to the next generation. Who, in turn, will ignore the wise elderly citizen, and chomp on a Tide Pod anyway.  This is definitely the new “circle of life.”

Luckily, there is a growing number of young people who not only resist these asinine challenges but show more courage and intelligence than many adults … these are the leaders of the future. Hell, they’re the leaders we need now, but sadly, we’ll have to wait a bit longer for them to come into their own. So, there is hope yet.

As for me, just check my Instagram for the latest challenges I will be performing.  There is the couch-a-thon which involves sitting on my couch for an entire episode of a QVC show while the remote is on the counter in the kitchen, totally out of my reach; then there is the gluttony challenge where I will eat an entire pizza by myself.  It’s dangerous, but I like to shake it up a little and live on the edge.  Then there’s the “rope the remote with the phone charger” challenge. It’s not as easy as it sounds – I almost fell off the couch performing this one, so there’s an added risk to be taken into consideration. Of course, my all-time favorite: eating a whole container of Oreos without milk (bonus points if it’s because you forgot milk at the store when you in fact purchased the Oreos).  Required Disclaimer: Don’t try these at home, people, I am a trained professional.

Darwin’s Law for a Younger Generation

For the uninitiated, Darwin’s Law is simple.  Basically, it revolves around survival of the fittest, or in this case, the smartest.  Those who don’t succeed in smart choices are doomed to fade away.  Or, you know, grow up and vote.

I would love to say I was immune to these challenges.  I’d like to say it, but that would be a lie.   Take the cinnamon challenge from a few years back.  You remember this one?  Kids would chug large mouthfuls of straight cinnamon while their supposed friends recorded the whole thing rather than offer to help.  Hilarity ensued as the victim choked and burned in agony, their pain forever recorded on YouTube or Facebook.  Good times were had by all.

I was maybe six when I did this myself.  To be clear, it wasn’t on purpose.  It was an accident.  You see, I loved cinnamon toast. Being the typical six-year-old, I figured there were only two ingredients: toast and cinnamon.  But who needs toast anyway?  The toast in cinnamon toast is sort of an unessential element if you ask me – kinda like the water in whiskey and water. Let me at that yummy box of cinnamon and let’s get right to the good stuff!

So there I was at the precocious age of 6…my poor mother. I climbed up the tall shelf that held all of the forbidden goodies, grabbed that box and upended it over my mouth.  Yummy…no…wait…yikes!  There was an immediate reaction.  I couldn’t breathe, the powder coated my throat and puffed into my sinuses. My mother had to practically drown me to get it washed out because water simply does not do much to clear the cinnamon invasion (if you notice, when you pour water on it, cinnamon separates and stays dry). My Mom said it was one of the scariest moments when I was a kid. So even though it sounds like it’s nothing, swallowing straight cinnamon is really very dangerous and stupid. Kids are doing this as a game.  It’s insane.

As a side note, I still love cinnamon toast, but I now know Mom had a few additional ingredients other than just cinnamon and toast in her delicious treat. I do learn. In case you were wondering.

It was actually my mother’s fault that I took part in what might have been the first trial ever of the cinnamon challenge.   You see kids, in the days that cinnamon actually came in boxes or tins, there was also a thing we used to call a wall phone.  Imagine, a phone tethered to the wall by a long cord.  These cords came in various lengths, allowing parents much more freedom to sneak up and catch their kids doing stupid things.  For the longest time, we had a short cord. However, after having lived with me for a while, my Mom secretly traded out the short cord for a long phone cord so that she could spy on my antics while talking to Aunt Margaret, Uncle Joe, or that gossipy lady down the street.  Moms have a weird sixth sense about when their kids are getting into mischief, or, in this case, blatant stupidity.  She also knew that a phone call was just enough time for her wayward child to partake in various shenanigans such as breaking a lamp, sneaking a cookie, or in this case, chugging a box of cinnamon.  I believe that I would have escaped unscathed had she not popped up around the corner, phone clenched in her hand, and caught me with the box.  She scared me so much that I choked on the cinnamon.  Hey, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Then there were the challenges involving innocent school supplies.  Ah, yes, the sissy test.  For reasons still unclear to psychologists everywhere, the kids in this one take a pencil top eraser and rub a spot on the top of their hand until the skin is raw. Because this is not nearly painful or satisfying enough, the kids continue to rub the spot until it becomes a painful sore.  I guess the idea was to be able to prove you can take the pain or perhaps to erase elementary school tattoos.  Of course had I known I’d be going through the excruciating agony pleasures of childbirth twice later in life, I would’ve scoffed at whoever created this challenge with a self-satisfied smirk and a wise nod.  “Ahhh, little grasshopper.  You’ve got nothing!”  At any rate, I still have the scar. I never said I was a brilliant child. In my defense, this was elementary school and not high school. Does that help?  No? Oh well.

Other challenges I remember included how high one could swing while STANDING on the swing; emergency room doctors and dentists were fond of this one. As we got older, we tempted fate by knocking down Old Lady Lloyd’s mailbox.  Sounds innocent, but you would be amazed at how fast a ninety year old woman can run down a sidewalk brandishing a cane.

There is a trend now in these challenges that seems to be more serious, with a risk of permanent injury and even in some cases life threatening.  When did challenges go from sticking your tongue to a metal pole in the winter to more ominous and dangerous risks?   Can we blame social media hysteria?  Attention seeking compulsions and a desire to be a part of something no matter how stupid? Unbelievable peer pressure?  A feeling of invincibility from watching too much violent TV?   I mean, there has to be something.

Activities like the “condom” challenge where you inhale a condom and pull it through your mouth just makes absolutely zero sense to me.  Then, there is “Sack Tapping” which, to me is just crazy.  Boys trying to dash their mothers’ dreams of grandchildren all in the name of “manning up.”  Do they not realize they can do permanent damage or do they not care? These parents more than any others deserve to have grandchildren if for no other reason than to say “HA! You now have kids that act exactly like you did!”

Duct taping a friend to a pole or some other object seems to be a thing. I know, right? I thought it was a fake challenge myself, but apparently it happens. The goal of course is to duct tape the so-called friend as tightly as possible and then the friend tries their best to break free. With friends like these, who needs enemies?  I understand one girl partaking in the challenge broke her teeth and several bones in her face because she fell over onto concrete and couldn’t catch herself. Because of course, her hands were duct taped to her sides. I’m sure she wasn’t alone. I’m sure others have endured similar challenge-related injuries. This challenge, among all the others, can sometimes include a glorious one night’s vacation stay in a hospital.

Believe it or not, setting your friends or yourself on fire is a game. A game. Yes. you read that right. A. Game. The rules here are simple.  You douse yourself in flammable liquid and set yourself on fire while friends operate the video equipment (aka cell phone), the results of which are then posted on social media. Marshmallows are optional, and the fun abounds as the winners get to discover the joys of second and third degree burns.

My immediate reaction to all of this of course is to say, WTF?  My second reaction is to question the parenting involved in these young people’s lives. As a parent myself, I know kids can get into trouble. I’ve had my fair share of worries, concerns, and downright “what the hell were you thinking” moments. I’m happy to report though that neither of my kids have set themselves on fire. Perhaps judging the parents is unfair…but if not the home-life, then what?  What drives kids to do these ridiculously stupid things? And more importantly, how do we get them to stop?

The one thing all of these stupid challenges share is attention seeking behavior from the participants and the “hey are these really your friends??” individuals egging them on.  If we could convince our kids and teens to unsubscribe and unfollow these people, their fame may be over and the challenges would stop.

Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open with your kids.  Explain that Wally McFlame may seem funny today, but that he is placing his life in very real danger.  I would not be averse to showing a few real pictures of burn victims to drive the point home.  Our kids are tech savvy beyond belief, and smarter than we give them credit for.  But they are also naïve in so many ways. We need to step in and keep our kids firmly planted in reality.

My kids have tested my sanity (still intact, thank you very much), stressed me (nothing a little wine won’t fix!), and have generally made life interesting through their ongoing antics, that is for sure.  But thankfully, my kids have thus far survived without having participated in any of the challenges that are apparently intended to weed them out of society.  I personally will keep the cinnamon far out of reach, and carefully monitor all school supplies to ensure they are being used properly.  I don’t want to admit to my kids that I may, or may not, have done a few silly things myself.