You can learn a lot when your car is full of middle school students.
Like who got her navel pierced over winter break. Or whose mom lets her wear high heels.
If you can get your passengers to turn down Y100 a few notches, you may even hear about The Cinnamon Challenge.
As further proof that the adolescent brain is still not fully developed, this challenge involves one person who dares another to swallow a spoonful of ground cinnamon. The spice dries the challenge taker's mouth and is almost impossible to swallow. Some of the cinnamon victims accidentally inhale the cinnamon, which causes them to choke, blow out clouds of brown smoke and suffer from temporary but severe chest pain.
This apparently is hilarious if you're 12-years-old.
When I heard that a bunch of kids were in trouble for doing this at my daughters' middle school in Miami, my first reaction, to be honest, was … relief.
Of all the dangers that played out in my paranoid mom's head when my kids started middle school – sex, drugs, violence – a spice prank was not among them. In fact, nine middle school students where I grew up in Loudoun County, Va., were just busted this month for bringing pot brownies to school.
If cinnamon is all I have to worry about then I should be relieved, right?
Stupid antics are nothing new to this age group. My husband thinks kids' pranks have become more dangerous because now they're trying to record the most extreme videos and post them online. But I remember participating in my own share of crazy stunts. Impulsive, poor decision-making has always been a necessary rite of passage. How else would you learn that a beach towel makes a lousy parachute for jumping off the roof of your house?
The difference now is that when my friends, my brother and I conducted our own rash, what-were-you-thinking moments, it was BYT (Before YouTube) and the only people who saw our idiot moves were those few accomplices who fell to the ground laughing or ran to get a mom and fire-rescue. There is no physical evidence of my stupidity (other than a few scars up and down my legs and a chipped tooth).
The Cinnamon Challenge – not to be confused with The Saltine Challenge, in which one has to eat six crackers in 60 seconds, or The Banana & Sprite Challenge, which involves eating two bananas and drinking a liter of Sprite until the soda reacts with the fruit to make you vomit – has been around since about 2001. It didn't become a viral sensation until the past few years, with hundreds of kids posting videos of their friends coughing up brown clouds and gagging on cinnamon.
Adults have gotten in on the act, too. There's even a video of Washington Wizards basketball players Nick Young and JaVale McGee trying to swallow cinnamon. (What else did you expect them to do during the NBA lockout last November?)
There are Facebook fan pages for The Cinnamon Challenge, an Urban Dictionary entry and a website.
Some of these videos are really disturbing. In one, a girl appears to be choking to death while her boyfriend laughs and records her distress. In another, a little boy panics, screams and gags into a water fountain at school while his friends yell and jump around him.
Still, this mom's exhaustive Google search resulted in no reported cases of someone dying from The Cinnamon Challenge. Yet. It doesn't seem far-fetched to imagine a kid eventually suffocating or having an allergic reaction.
As a mom, now my dilemma is this: Do I show these scary videos to my kids to warn them of this stunt's dangers? Or will showing them the videos merely incite them to try this with their friends?
Either way, I'm hiding my cinnamon.