Your Generation Did Stupid Shit Too: Why It’s Hypocritical to Judge Gen Z on the Laundry Pod Challenge

By: Taylor Douglas
Image from http://keprtv.com/news/local/wa-poison-center-officials-concerned-about-teens-eating-detergent-for-tide-pod-challenge

Here we are. It’s 2018. I’m writing my first blog post, and kids are chomping on laundry pods like they’re gummy bears.  Sure, the Tide pods look like the perfect combination of blue raspberry and orange that you (I) have been searching for in a gummy my entire life, but the temptation to eat one is alien, even for someone who eats tuna fish from the can. If we were looking for further proof of Darwin’s theory of natural selection, it’s here, and running rampant through the internet like Will Ferrell streaking through the quad in Old School.

At least, so the Judgmental Mom and Dad blogs would have you think. If this is the first time you’ve heard of the “Laundry Pod Challenge”, congratulations for somehow finding this remote blog on the Internet after you crawled out from under your rock this morning. More seriously, you can find an article from the Washington Post here that provides some information on the challenge. As the author, Lindsay Bever, notes, no one is quite sure where the challenge spread its roots. The first initial dangers came from young children who were drawn to the pods’ colors, and last year, videos surfaced of admittedly dumbass teenagers intentionally eating the pods for shits and gigs. I first came across the challenge when my local news station reported on it a few days ago, and as I sat down to write this blog, I did what any reasonable person would do and decided to research the modern day trainwreck myself by searching YouTube for videos of the culprits. What I found was shocking! Not in the graphic Human Centipede way, but rather, like an episode of Black Mirror that extrapolates the dark psychology of the moral majority.

When I searched “Laundry Pod Challenge”, I got numerous results from news stations and vloggers ranging anywhere from hundreds to millions of views. Based on what everyone would have you believe, scattered among these should have been videos of status hungry teenagers looking to shock their friends with their cunning and bravery. The kicker? As I scrolled, I didn’t find a single video posted by the culprits engaged in the destruction of society as we know it. Instead, I found countless videos of people warning of the dangers of the laundry pod challenge. Millenials, Gen X’ers, and Baby Boomers among us have taken to the web in droves to lambaste Gen Z and the stupidity that has gone “viral”. If the people taking on the laundry pod challenge were looking for attention, they have found it in the exploitation of their idiocy by the media and YouTubers looking for a quick like from the 99.9% of society that realizes the challenge is stupid and is “outraged” by the faux pas of Gen Z.

If you dig into the Washington Post article, you’ll see that it notes that in 2017, there were 220 cases of teenagers eating the pods reported by the Poison Control center, with about a quarter of those being intentional. Obviously, the true amount of teenagers who did this was probably larger, as some would go unreported. However, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are over 40 million teenagers in the United States. This gives us a percentage of teenagers eating laundry pods that needs to be written in scientific notation instead of a meaningful percentage. Based on the Post’s article’s estimation that there have been 37 reported cases so far this year, the number will probably be higher by the end of 2018, but the percentage of kids partaking will still be farther to the right of zero than the Freedom Caucus is from Bernie Sanders.

I don’t write this article to condone the stupidity of the kids who actually did this challenge or validate their actions. This isn’t even a critique of the masses who have swarmed to speak out against it, as while those people bring the stupid fad attention, they may also help bring awareness to why it should end and keep kids from doing it. Instead this is an exploration of our own bias against the generations behind us. The truth is that the viral nature of the laundry pod challenge isn’t about the kids doing it, it is about our desire to judge the people growing up behind us, and blame them for changes we don’t think fit with society.

The truth of our judgment is that it’s hypocritical. It’s easy to look back with the perspective of an adult and dismiss the actions of youth as immature and unwieldy. As a 24 year old, I can’t really comprehend why anyone would eat laundry detergent. Hell, I can’t even bring myself to eat a brussel sprout or shoot tequila, much less down the stuff that gets the food stains out of my whites and khakis. But, doing stupid shit isn’t limited to the youth of today. It’s a part of the human condition held in every generation, from toddlers to nursing home residents. As a Millenial, I bear the mark of being born into a generation that played the Choking Game, an exposé of stupidity that affected exponentially more people in my generation. People have chugged gallons of milk, eaten spoonfuls of cinnamon, and smoked synthetic marijuana that had the power to kill them. Outside the realm of fads, society does even dumber things. It’s estimated that almost 25 million people smoke meth every year despite the fact that we’ve been told that that shit will fucking kill you since we were in grade school.

I can’t speak for the fads of the people who grew up before me, but the fact of the matter is that stupidity will always reign at the fringes of society. Today, it seems worse, but the question is, “Is it?” There are arguments to be made to say that it is, but another argument can be made that it is the repetition of history. Before I looked further, I would have never guessed that the number of laundry pod challenge cases was only 220 last year based on the coverage of it as an epidemic. The real fact is that we now live in an age that exposes these fringe actions with the spotlight of the internet that highlights them with a radius of influence that is greater than they deserve.

To me, the danger is in being blinded by this spotlight and not seeing the merit of the younger generation as a whole. It’s easy to dismiss them with the evidence of the blunders that are highlighted by the Internet and TV. It’s fun to make a video that all of your friends and followers agree with and give a thumbs up and amen from the pulpit of their keyboard. It’s harder to see the merit of generations that are growing up with the knowledge being built by us and the opportunity to change the world in ways we can’t even imagine. Generation Z is growing up with the microscope of social media on them into an adulthood that promises difficulty in adjusting to new norms in society and the economy. They are going to be the generation that brings us self-driving cars, that has to adapt to automation displacing them from the careers that they spent years in school to qualify for. Some of them are going to do stupid shit that ruins their lives, and most of them are going grow up to be mature adults who produce for society and love family and friends like the rest of us who have made the transition from a wondering teen to a person who realizes they have something special to lose. As they grow older they’re going to learn what we learned, and they’re going to learn it after watching us and following the groundwork that the people who have traversed the tumultuous journey to maturity laid for them to find.

The second kicker? They’re going to learn all of these good things from us, just like I learned those good things from the people before me, and you did as well. And, just like we learned the dumb stuff from the generations before. The patchwork foundation we lay is full of both our good and decisions. It’s the double-edged sword we must tiptoe across in life. I believe this is important to remember as we throw stones at our glass windows. As we gather ours, they gather theirs, waiting for the next fodder to misstep through adolescent years that are already difficult without being burdened by the judgment of people already bruised by the stones of their fathers.

Most importantly, however, I hope we can remember that amidst all the stupidity we see are countless individuals growing up to be the lights of society. Maybe instead of the cloud of night we place around kids we think will never live up to us, we should focus on the stars among them. For every kid doing the laundry pod challenge. There’s 100,000 making a good decision. In my book, that means the light is winning.