Did you hear? Teens are getting dangerously drunk by soaking tampons in vodka and shoving them up their butts. Or, wait, are they getting dangerously drunk by drinking Four Loko? Or maybe they're getting dangerously high huffing human poop? Or are they having dangerous sex at Rainbow Parties?
We know: it's hard to keep track of all of the many moral panics we've encountered over the last ten years or so. Which is why we've collected all of them into a handy, convenient timeline that will help you determine which violent, drug-fueled sex act is currently sweeping through your teenager's school.
2002 - 2010
Is your teen... going to parties where all guests dump their prescription medication into a bowl and then pass it around, like some kind of degenerate potluck?
Is it real? There's literally not one documented instance of a pharm party taking place anywhere on the planet.
Height: A 2006 USA Today cover story, "Prescription drugs find place in teen culture."
Outcome: Several peeved columns from media writer Jack Shafer.
Sample Articles: "Pharm parties: kids know about them" (Winona Post, 8/16/09); "Pharm parties scarier than haunted house" Flint Journal, 10/22/2009); "Among teens, a new kind of pharming" (Salisbury Daily Times, 8/25/2007).
2002 - 2006
Is your teen... going to parties where each girl wears a different shade of lipstick and performs oral sex on each boy in succession, creating a (smudged, one would imagine) rainbow?
Is it real? As with pharm parties, there's no evidence at all that rainbow parties have ever taken place.
Height: A 2003 Oprah special, "Is Your Child Leading a Double Life?"
Outcome: A young adult novel called Rainbow Party.
Sample Articles: "Over the rainbow: Oral sex among teens is new spin the bottle" (San Francisco Chronicle, 10/23/05); "Parenting Alert: Teen Sex" (WOWT, 2/5/2004).
Teen Sex Bracelets
2003 - Ongoing
Is your teenager... collecting gel or snap bracelets that signify that she has done, or is willing to do, a specific sexual act?
Is it real? No. I mean, not even a little bit.
Height: A 2003 AP article "Fun Fashion, Or Sex Signal?"
Outcome: Thousands of forwarded emails.
Sample Articles: "Police: Teens pass sexual messages with wristbands" (ABC-4 Salt Lake City, 4/1/2010); "Teen Sex Trends To Snap Parents Into Reality" (WMTW, 11/11/2004).
2005 - Ongoing
Is your teen... self-asphyxiating to create a momentary high?
Is it real? Kids have been self-asphyxiating since forever; only recently has the phenomenon been called "the choking game," and there's no real indication that it's a widespread trend.
Height: 2005 ABC 20/20 segment "Choking Game Is Deadly Child's Play"
Outcome: A CDC study claiming 82 youths had died from the choking game between 1995 and 2007.
Sample Articles: "Teens' brief high can choke out life" (Kansas City Star, 8/17/2005), "Few kids win this risky new game" (Chicago Tribune, 10/18/2005).
2005 - Ongoing
Is your teen... the victim of vicious rumors, threats or intimidation on the internet, or also, having his sexts leaked?
Is it real? There's an ongoing debate about the extent to which cyber-bullying is different from, and possibly worse than, traditional, all-American bullying.
Height: 2011 ABC Family movie Cyberbully; "Cyberbullying" added to Oxford English Dictionary same year.
Outcome: Anti-cyberbullying laws passed in Missouri and New Hampshire.
Sample Articles: "Trooper talks about sexting, cyber-bullying concerns in Saugatuck" (Holland Sentinel, 3/12/2012); "Cyber bullying on the 'Real Housewives of New York City'" (CBS News Tech Talk, 7/26/2011).
Is your teen... getting high off the fumes of her own or others' poop?
Is it real? Jenkem use was reported in Zambia in the 1990s; there's no documented use in the U.S., and the brief 2007 panic appears to have been started thanks to a hoax.
Height: 2009 "medical show" casting call for "someone who has tried this new drug craze."
Outcome: Bettendorf, Iowa expands "huffing" law to include "organic substances."
Sample Articles: "'Drug' Made From Human Waste Causing Stink on Web, in Law Enforcement" (FoxNews.com, 11/06/2007); "Are local kids using human waste to get high?" (WINK, 11/2/2007); "Dirty New Drug Threatens Youth" (KIMT, 11/6/2007).
2008 - 2010
Is your teen... drinking this powerful caffeinated malt beverage and then posting on his Tumblr about it?
Is it real? Four Loko is some strong shit, but so strong it should be illegal? Probably not.
Height: New York Assemblyman Felix Ortiz drinks Four Loko while WNBC cameras roll, vomits.
Outcome: A warning letter from the FDA to Four Loko manufacturer Phusion Projects in November 2010, leading Phusion to "reformulate" Four Loko to remove the caffeine, guarana and taurine.
Sample Articles: "Four Loko: Is New Party Brew "Liquid Cocaine?" (CBS News, 6/18/2010); "Calif. Teens Dead Beside Empty Can of Four Loko" (NewsCore, 1/24/2011).
Based in reality? Sort of.
2008 - Ongoing
Is your teen... planning with other teens on Twitter to meet up, beat the shit out of strangers and loot stores?
Is it real? A few times now, a bunch of kids have gotten together and done rotten things, but it seems like kind of a stretch to call them "flash mobs" or think of the whole as something new or newly dangerous. Not to mention the fact that there's a weird racial aspect to most of the coverage.
Height: March 2010 front-page New York Times story on Philadelphia flash mobs.
Outcome: Philadelphia passes youth curfew law in October 2011.
Sample Articles: "Increasingly violent flash mobs worry authorities, residents" (8/16/2011); "'Flash Mobs' Turn Ugly" (The Early Show, 3/26/2010).
2009 - 2011
Is your teen... grinding Smarties candy into a fine powder, rolling it back in the plastic wrapper, puffing out bursts of sugar as though it were smoke and pretending that it's a cigarette?
Is it real? Someone has probably done this, somewhere, so in that sense it's "real."
Height: 2009 feature in The Wall Street Journal "Just Say No....to Smarties? Faux Smoking Has Parents Fuming."
Outcome: Some schools banned Smarties, leading the company to describe itself as "one of the safest candies."
Sample Articles: "Not Smart(ies): Doctors Warn of Dangers in Kids 'Smoking' Sugary Candies" (FoxNews.com, 3/20/2009); "Why Are America's Kids 'Smoking' Smarties?" (NBC Miami, 3/23/2009); "Educators worried by rise of students who snort crushed candy" (The Birmingham News, 12/25/2011).
Is your teen... getting high on MP3s she downloaded from the internet?
Is it real? C'mon.
Height: 2010 CBS News segment "I-Dosing: Downloading Digital Drugs?"
Outcome: A lot of publicity for I-Doser.com.
Sample Articles: "DIGITAL DRUGS: How Teens Are Using The Internet To Get 'High'" (Huffington Post, 7/15/2010); "'Digital drugs' at Mustang High School have experts warning of slippery slope" (The Oklahoman, 7/12/2010); "Turn on, tune in and get high on 'audio drugs'?" (McClatchy, 6/24/2010).
Is your teen... purchasing legally-available synthetic marijuana, smoking it, and then hallucinating and/or having a heart attack?
Is it real? There's some evidence that synthetic marijuana is more dangerous than traditional, all-American marijuana.
Height: The 2010 ABC 20/20 segment "Taxpayer Money Created 'Legal Marijuana' Used By Teens."
Outcome: The DEA banned K2 and other "synthetic marijuana" products in November of 2010.
Sample Articles: "Spice: safe substitute or 'dangerous product'?" (Journal-News, 11/15/2010); "WASHTENAW COUNTY: Area teens using the designer drug K2, causing concern in medical community" (Heritage Newspapers, 8/24/2011); "Ban the poison being sold as synthetic marijuana" by Penn. State Rep. Jennifer Mann (The Mercury, 12/3/10).
2010 - Ongoing
Is your teen... purchasing a dangerous stimulant misleadingly sold as "bath salts" and then putting up your neighbor's Christmas decorations?
Is it real? The "bath salts" in question are actually mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone, intense stimulants related to khat, and not, like, regular bath salts. So, basically, yes.
Height: 2011 front-page New York Times article "An Alarming New Stimulant, Legal in Many States."
Outcome: Following the lead of several states, the DEA has temporary banned bath salts nationwide, pending review.
Sample Articles: "How can I protect my teens from bath salts?" (Lehigh Valley Morning Call, 8/21/2011); "Man high on bath salts kills neighbor's goat, police say" (Charleston Gazette, 5/2/2011); "Could 'Bath Salts' be a new drug craze in TN?" (TriCities.com, 1/29/2011).
Vodka Tampons/Butt Chugging
2011 - Ongoing
Is your teen... soaking tampons in vodka and then shoving them up her vagina/his butt in order to get drunk?
Is it real? Once, in college, I knew these two guys on the rugby team who squirted a turkey baster of vodka up each other's ass.
Height: Huffington Post blogger Danielle Crittenden actually does it.
Outcome: I'm guessing, a lot of sore butts.
Sample Articles: "Teens using vodka-soaked tampons, gummy bears for a quick buzz" (KHOU, 2/2/2012); "Teens using vodka tampons to get drunk" (KPHO, 11/7/2011); "Shocking alcohol trends among area teens" (News Channel 10, 2/29/2012).
Is your teen... obsessed with skinny Jewish porn star James Deen?
Is it real? Even Bret Easton Ellis knows that James Deen will lead to a generation of porn-obsessed teens.
Height: 2012 ABC Nightline segment "James Deen: Wholesome-Looking, Boy-Next-Door Is Porn's Hottest Star."
Outcome: Lots of free publicity for James Deen.
Sample Articles: None (yet).
Image by Jim Cooke.