Examining the Latest Teen Fad: Eating Tide Pods


Welcome to 2018. Another new year, 365 days to make yourself a better person and to make better decisions. Unless of course, you decide to eat Tide Pods. Every year, there seems to be a new “challenge,” in which teenagers partake in a dangerous activity, such as sucking their lips into a shot glass to make them swell up – known as the Kylie Jenner Challenge – or eating a spoonful of cinnamon – the infamous Cinnamon Challenge. Teenagers wasted no time before jumping to a new challenge – the Tide Pod Challenge.

So, what exactly are these teenagers consuming? Tide Pods are small individual packets of detergent that dissolve in the washing machine. Because these pods are made of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), and can easily dissolve in a washing machine, they can just as easily dissolve in a person’s mouth, causing the pod to release the detergent. Tide Pods, for obvious reasons, are not meant for human consumption. These pods contain very harmful chemicals that can cause life-threatening problems if ingested. An individual who consumes a Tide Pod can experience breathing problems, damage to the esophagus, burning of the throat, blood pressure changes, or even loss of consciousness.

So, if these small pods can cause such huge problems, why are teenagers willfully consuming them? To answer this question, I first turned back the clock to when I was in middle school. I was months away from starting my freshman year in high school when the Cinnamon Challenge started sweeping Keek, Vine, and Facebook. To complete the challenge, teenagers were to film themselves eating a spoonful of ground cinnamon in under 60 seconds without drinking anything. This challenge seemed harmless at first, because who doesn’t love cinnamon right? Wrong. Consuming this much cinnamon will dry the mouth almost instantly, and can cause choking, throat irritation, trouble breathing, and even in some cases, a collapsed lung.

Due to my lack of expertise in Psychology, as I am only a student, I decided to turn to a few of the professors here on campus for more insight as to why individuals – mostly teenagers – have been engaging in reckless behavior for years. Dr. Janett Naylor-Tincknell, Associate Professor/Director of the Experimental Psychology Graduate Program, has a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from the University of Oklahoma. Because of this, I knew she would be able to give us a better understanding of what goes through teenager’s heads when they decide to partake in harmful challenges such as this. Dr. Trey Hill, Assistant Professor & Interim Department Chair of the Psychology Department, has a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology, and specializes in judgment and decision making. Like Naylor-Tincknell, I knew Hill would be able to further our understanding of why teenagers make the decision to eat Tide Pods.

Q: Today, we’re going to be talking about the Tide Pod Challenge, if you know what this challenge is, could you explain it to me?

Dr. Naylor-Tincknell: “From what I understand, children are being challenged to eat Tide Pods? And then that’s not turning out very well, as one would expect.”

Dr. Hill: “I had kind of an idea, I assumed based on the context, it was something misinformed that young people were doing. But I had to look it up.”

Q: Using your background and knowledge, why do you think that teenagers are doing these “fads” or “challenges,” even though they can be extremely harmful?

Dr. Naylor-Tincknell: “There’s a couple of things going on. They [teenagers] have some changes in cognitive ability, they have some problems processing things that are going to happen in the future. They don’t do a lot of hypothetical thinking. They are not adults yet, they don’t often have the ability to think about long-term consequences. They’re not able to really be able to think ahead and think about complex consequences, so there’s a cognitive thing going on. They often think that bad things happen to other people, but they don’t believe that those things will happen to them. It’s a problem in their thinking. Then there are some problems with identity development. Peers become a huge influence on their behavior. And then if we take in some problems with their thought process, some problems with attributing causes and outcomes, and then we take in some peer pressure, it’s sort of like a perfect storm.”

Dr. Hill: “It seems like young people, and I was no different, everybody goes through this phase where you want to fit in, draw attention, because attention serves as some affirmation that you’re important. Social media gives you a nice metric to do that though, because you can look at the number of views you have on a YouTube video, or the number of followers or the number of friends, so social media just makes it a little bit easier. The Tide Pod thing really to me, is just the newest example of people doing something outlandish to get attention and draw in followers. When I think about it, I think about that show “Jackass” and people would do really stupid dangerous things, and so when that show came out, people my age were doing that.”

Q: Do you think teenagers are doing this to just make a joke, or seek attention, or just for the follower count on social media?

Dr. Naylor-Tincknell: “I would say that it’s possible that some are, but I don’t think that we could blame that for all of them. My gut would say that it’s just really poor thinking. Really poor choices. I don’t think they’re doing it to get the number of retweets, they’re not doing it to get YouTube followers, I don’t think they’re doing it for social media attention. I think social media is just a way to chronicle those bad choices now.”

Dr. Hill: “That kind of behavior might exist even if social media didn’t exist, it’s just that social media gives you a bigger reach. I would not go as far as blaming this on social media, people were doing really unfortunate things before social media existed. So I don’t really think it’s because of social media, it’s just social media gives it a bigger reach. I’d have to go back to what my colleague said, that especially at that age, we’re not great at planning ahead. Part of it is just that our frontal lobes are not fully developed until your mid 20’s, and of course, your prefrontal cortex is important for things like planning, executive functioning, all of the stuff that’s really important if you’re deciding not to eat a Tide Pod.”

There you have it, folks, teenagers eating Tide Pods, although extremely dangerous, is not a new fad of this day and age. Unfortunately, teenagers have been involved in dangerous challenges from the “Great Goldfish Swallowing Craze of 1939” to the “Tide Pod Challenge of 2018,” and every little challenge in between. If you would like to listen to the full interview with Dr. Naylor-Tincknell, stay tuned to Tiger Media Network and KFHS radio for details, or check our Twitter for when the interview will go live @TigerMediaNet and @KFHSRadio.











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