YouTube Is Making Kids DumberS

According to anecdotal evidence and the New York Times Well Blog teenagers are getting stupid. Who's to blame? The internet, naturally.

Tara Parker-Pope begins by asking: "Is the Internet making teenagers do more dumb things than ever?" While this seems unlikely, she does have some doctors willing to back up the claim. Dr. E. Hani Mansour recalls a recent case, in which a teenager from New Jersey lit himself on fire by getting into a bathtub filled with fireworks. He said he was hoping to post it on YouTube.

Other teens have been injured recently by similar stunts, including the "flaming basketball" trick. This is, apparently, a "thing" online (a quick YouTube search shows it may be common, but it can't be that popular; even the most watched flaming basketball video only has a couple thousand hits). Also dangerous? The so-called choking game, which has also made an appearance on the interwebs. Parker-Pope suggests that maybe teens are being influenced by the "imaginary audience" of digital culture. Not only are their tricks inspired by online trends - they also display an unsurprisingly youthful desire for an audience, a platform from which to show off.

But here's the thing: Teenagers have always been stupid. It's their job. The word "teenage" is even a relatively modern invention, intended to describe a phase of life where one practically lives to be idiotic. Boundaries are tested, limits are pushed. Sometimes the teenage rebellion may border on insanity - as in the case of the fireworks tub - but most of the time, the stunts are fairly straightforward. Can we blame the internet for giving them a larger audience? Maybe. A couple of years ago we were all blaming Jackass for a similarly undocumented rise in teenage stupidity. And I'm sure before that, there was something else spurring teenagers on to new heights of daring and danger. When I was in high school, a friend of mine broke his arm when trying to "surf" on the top of a moving car. This incident was not filmed. Maybe I'm being overly hopeful, but after knowing him, I have to believe that the kids who are inclined to dunk a flaming ball, or take a ride on the roof of a minivan, would probably do exactly that regardless of the size of their audience. Often, one teenage boy (or girl) standing on the sidelines is enough. Stupidity exists, YouTube just captures it.

Teenage Tricks, For A Virtual Audience [New York Times]