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      This Week in Teens: Are America's Teenagers Setting Themselves on Fire?

      By Hanson O’Haver

      Contributor

      August 7, 2014
      From the column 'This Week in Teens'

      Talking heads are going nuts over the Fire Challenge. Photo via YouTube

      Teens are America's greatest natural resource. They're full of new ideas, smarter than ever, and not yet racked with cynicism and guilt. Some of the best things we've got—rock 'n' roll, energy drinks, hickeys—wouldn't exist today were it not for teen demand. Not to mention that teens are sustainable; left unchecked, they'll create more teens just over a dozen years. And yet, to reference a perennial college freshman favorite, the teens they are a-changin'.

      The global recession hit those on the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum the hardest. Part time employment and summer jobs are now harder to come by. Consequently, teen purchasing power is on the decline. Plus, teens are good at streaming things for free, and Macklemore made them think used clothes are funny, so they have less incentive to buy new things. At this point, it's baby boomers who have the real discretionary income. As marketers catch up to this shift, the prized demographic will become those over 55. Our nation's youth will be forced to adapt to their ever-evolving circumstances. Will teenage ingenuity emphasize their continued relevance? Or will our younger siblings collapse into a messy room of hormones, broken curfews, and not-yet-illegal drugs? It is with this background in mind that we launch a new column: This Week in Teens.

      -If there's one thing teens love, it's trends. And if there's one thing local news stations love, it's scaring people who think they might come into contact with teenagers (this is easy to do as teens are inherently terrifying). Combining these two passions is this week's top news story: Teens are taking off their shirts, standing in the shower, pouring flammable liquids on their chests, and lighting themselves on fire. Sometimes the teens start flapping around—because of the fire, remember—before they can turn on the shower, and then the flames spread to their shorts or the shower curtain and they end up in the hospital with severe burns. It's called the Fire Challenge, Mom, and it's all done in the name of internet fame.

      Media savvy readers are probably wondering if the Fire Challenge is real, or if we're being knockout gamed (that is, hit over the head with something that maybe happened a few times). Well, that depends. For one thing, it's on Worldstar, baby, and I've found maybe a few dozen unique videos or photos of people undergoing the "challenge." Apparently there's even been one fatality, a 15-year-old named James Shores in Buffalo, although all the articles reporting his death are spam repositories and racist message boards, and all seem to copy and paste text from the same article. What's clear, though, is that for every video that exists, there are dozens of articles simultaneously decrying and publicizing the challenge's existence. As with so many trend stories purporting to warn parents about what their teens are up to, by covering the story, the media has made the problem way worse. It's safe to say that our teens are almost entirely not on fire. This is all probably for the best, though it is pretty cool to imagine groups of kids casually aflame while loitering in front of 7-11. Just remember: the trick is to put out the fire before the vapors stop burning and your body starts.

      -Do 1/3 of teens not know that HIV is an STD? Is this this article in the Daily Beast a bit disingenous for reporting a study's claim in the headline as if it were a fact, and then questioning the study's methods? Am I making things worse by sharing a piece about a possibly dubious study? And what if I'm really, really careful about making sure to wash 'down there' after sex?

      -A central part of being a teen is lacking money, freedom, and a sense of control over your own life. Put simply, it's boring. That's why teenagers love drugs. As a whole America is steadily moving toward less harsh drug laws, but on a state-by-state level things vary widely. Case in point: Whereas Colorado has legalized marijuana, a few hundred miles south, in Georgetown, Texas, 19-year-old Jacob Lavoro could face life in prison for selling brownies containing marijuana and hash oil. "I'm scared. Very scared," he says, which is totally understandable given the fact that he may soon become the latest in a long line of casualties in an increasingly antiquated drug war. 

      -With their sweaty hair, tight pants, and highly-commodified spirit of rebellion, skateboarders make perfect teens. They're loud, vaguely threatening, and their t-shirts tell you who made them. But don't let the destruction of public property fool you—under their counter-cultural exterior, skateboarders are just like other teens, albeit a little worse at throwing a football. That's why it's so great to watch their toughness collapse in the face of a truly scary sight: angry moms. While in some of the videos the skateboarders appear to be provoking the moms, it's more satisfying when the moms are entirely at fault. Motherboard says that in these fights there are no winners, but that's not quite right. The winners are those of us watching at home. 

      Malia Obama and a pal at Lollapalooza. Photo via Twitter user cleaaaaver

      -Now that every sound ever recorded is available on the internet, for free, instantly, defining oneself by one's taste in music might've fallen out of vogue among teens. That said, dressing in flower crowns, flag print, and bathing suits is timeless and so is experimenting with ecstasy and making out in public. This year's Lollapalooza was a success, as thousands of teens and non-teens alike showed up to watch performers like Eminem and Lorde, who is definitely 17 and not 35. The real story of the festival, though, was the appearance of 16-year-old Malia Obama. Seeing as Jimmy Carter was already long out of office when his 15-year-old daughter Amy wrote that love letter to The Ramones, this all raises the question: Is America ready for a sitting president with a hipster daughter?

      Follow Hanson O'Haver on Twitter.

      Topics: Teenagers

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