Friday, December 2, 2011

Teen Trends That Don't Exist


Warning: mature content ahead! It, ironically, produced some very immature emails between us operatives, so proceed at your own risk!

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One of my favorite past-times lately has been "spot the moral-outrage and panic-inducing fake teen trend story." There have been a lot of them, and they never stop coming. For some reason, we're all quite convinced that teens are up to some seriously outrageous stuff.

Here are some of the most infamous and absurd examples:

1. Sex Bracelets

In 2003 and then again in 2009, a story about the colored jelly bracelets many teens wear exploded in the media. Supposedly, each color bracelet represented a particular sex act the girl wearing them was willing to perform. If a boy broke or stole the bracelet, he was entitled to claim the corresponding sex act from the girl.

It was a lurid and frightening new trend that seemed to highlight just how reckless, wild and sexually promiscuous modern teens are.

The only problem was no one could ever find any actual teens who were actually doing this.

Here sociologist Joel Best talks about the work he's doing into how cultural myths like this one spread.

2. Rainbow Parties

2003 was apparently a banner year for the teen trend urban legend, because it's also the year that "rainbow parties" got a showcase on Oprah and scared the hell out of parents everywhere. I'll let you click on over to Wikipedia to find out what a rainbow party is if you're not a big Oprah fan.

This particular "trend" spawned dozens of news stories, daytime television segments, and even a YA novel called Rainbow Party by Paul Ruditis, which was not terribly well-received. The jacket describes the book as "a cautionary tale [...] that addresses important and timeless issues relevant to teens, including self-esteem, peer pressure, awareness about STD protection, and making an informed and educated decision about readiness for sexual activity."

Which, actually, is basically what "rainbow parties" ended up being: a cautionary tale used to scare parents and admonish teens before the fact, because there's no real evidence that rainbow parties ever existed.

At least, not until a (very) few enterprising kids got the idea from Oprah.

3. Vodka-Tamponing

 I'm sure you're grateful.

This is the newest -- and, dare I say it, most creative? -- new "teen trend" to feature on your local news and send your PTA into an uproar.

For this one, I have to refer you directly to the man who brought it to my attention: Stephen Colbert. This is important, because, as Stephen warns us, literally all teens are doing this. In fact, I know that those of you under 18 reading this, are drunk at this very moment.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Vodka Tampons
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One intrepid reporter saw the same, err, logistical problems with this particular story as I did and did a little experimentation.

"Grimly, I realized there was only one way to settle the mystery. I couldn't assign it to someone else (just imagine trying to pitch that to a writer!). In the interests of science and parents everywhere, I decided that I would have to test the rumour myself."
Her article is well worth a read, not only for a chuckle but because it demonstrates what all the ladies among us no doubt already know: there's no way kids are actually doing this.

So, where do these stories about all the crazy and destructive things teens are supposedly getting up to come from? It's clearly not reality. Is it our way of expressing our subconscious concerns about how teens are navigating the pitfalls of the modern world, or are stories like this just that much more sensational and attention-grabbing if the protagonists are still young? I suspect it's a little of both, and I wonder if there have always been stories like this to frighten parents and give YA writers fodder for contemporary "issue" novels.

Have you ever run across any of these so-called trends or know an equally insane one I haven't mentioned? Want to confess to currently being drunk from pouring vodka in your eyeball? Let's hear it!

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