Videos of teenagers biting into brightly multicolored liquid laundry detergent packets went viral around December of last year and has since escalated into various iterations of the stunt.
Teenagers these days are challenging themselves to feats of daring — but not in a way that’s helpful or even remotely healthy. In the first 11 days of 2018 alone, more than 40 teens poisoned themselves in the USA after participating in the “Tide pod challenge.”
The viral Internet meme dared teens to take videos of themselves biting into Tide liquid detergent pods. This challenge is unlike any of the viral stunts that teens attempt, like the “gallon challenge,” “cinnamon challenge,” “bath salt challenge,” and similar tests of foolhardiness. This one is potentially fatal.
Teens poisoned themselves for popularity
The “Tide pod challenge” is the latest in a string of uncomfortable, painful, and dangerous dares online. Teens have poured salt on their hands and held ice until it burned their skin. Then there was a challenge that dared teens to pour rubbing alcohol on themselves and set the doused area on fire, There are even online challenges that ask kids to throw boiling water on unsuspecting friends and peers.
“You’re really taking a chance — and to what end?” Alfred Aleguas, managing director of the Florida Poison Information Center in Tampa, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “It’s pretty foolish behavior.”
Videos of teenagers biting into brightly multicolored liquid laundry detergent packets went viral around December of last year. It has since escalated into various versions of the stunt. Some of the videos show teens frying them in pans and chewing the result before spitting the soapy mess.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) have seen over 40 cases of “reported exposures to liquid laundry detergent pods by 13- to 19-year olds” in the first 11 days of 2018. Beyond the reports and the first 11 days of the year, experts expect the numbers to be higher.
The 40 cases that happened in the first 11 days of 2018 alone account for 20% of the total number of similar incidents in all of 2017.
Health hazards of detergent pods
Make no mistake about it, detergent pods can be very dangerous if improperly used. Children have suffered from vomiting, breathing difficulties, and the loss of consciousness.
There are even worse consequences. According to the AAPCC, there have been eight fatalities among children five years old and younger since 2012.
“They’re serious enough to cause possible diarrhoea and vomiting, and they’re in such a high concentration they could be deadly,” said David Johnson of the Washington State Department of Health.
Aleguas said that the laundry detergent packets pose two potential problems.
First is that children and teenagers can inhale the liquid into their lungs and cause asphyxiation. Second is they can ingest it and cause dramatic changes in blood pressure and heart rate. This can result in loss of consciousness and seizures.
Since many healthy teens don’t undergo thorough physical exams, some of them are unaware of any underlying medical conditions. These hidden medical conditions can put them at a higher risk of complications once they ingest laundry packets.
Companies discourage eating Tide pods
YouTube has also joined the conversation. Spokeswoman Jessica Mason said in a statement that they would “work to quickly remove flagged videos that violate our policies.”
“YouTube’s Community Guidelines prohibit content that’s intended to encourage dangerous activities that have an inherent risk of physical harm,” she added.
Tide’s parent company, Proctor & Gamble has also joined the conversation by issuing a statement, saying they are “deeply concerned about conversations related to intentional and improper use of liquid laundry pacs.”
“Laundry pacs are made to clean clothes,” Proctor & Gamble spokeswoman Petra Renck said in the statement. “They should not be played with, whatever the circumstance, even if meant as a joke. Like all household cleaning products, they must be used properly and stored safely.”
Proctor & Gamble also released a public service announcement on social media to address the problem of how teens poisoned themselves with their product. The ad features American footballer Rob Gronkowski, warning people not to eat Tide pods.
Why have teens poisoned themselves
The adolescents who get into these challenges don’t do this to hurt themselves.
“It’s impulsive thrill-seeking and the invincible mindset kids have that ‘nothing bad will happen to me,'” said Barry Sloane, senior counselor and supervisor of Teenline, a resource program and 24-hour hotline at Holy Spirit Hospital’s Behavioural Health Center.
Adults find it hard to understand why adolescents would do something so dangerous. Sloane said adolescents like to test boundaries in order to find out who they are.
“Part of it is where they are brain development-wise. They are impulsive and not thinking like an adult would. They don’t fully understand the consequences of risky behaviour, but they gain a lot of satisfaction out of taking risks,” he said.
Safety is of the utmost importance
Some schools opt not to address how teens poisoned themselves in this phenomenon. They fear it will only drive more teens and kids to try it. But Dr. Eric Eshbach said he preferred to have school staff and parents give as much information as they can.
“Anytime we can be proactive and prevent kids from getting hurt, we will err on the side of overinforming,” he said. “Safety and security of kids is of utmost importance.”
Most adolescents take up the challenge because they want to fit in with their peers. They want to experience the thrill of an otherwise mundane teenage life. Most of them want to become popular and gain social capital.
“Get your kids involved in sports, a club, a youth group, where they are surrounded by positive adult role models and engaged in healthy, time-consuming activities they enjoy,” he said.