Picture this: It’s 11:25 AM in a middle school cafeteria, where the first of three lunches is taking place. Some 400 or so 6th- and 7th-graders fidget in their seats waiting for the signal to go outside. As a school counselor by day, I see this play out over and over again, Monday through Friday. Scanning the hormone-infested room, I watch entire groups of students hovering over circular tables, slinging comments back and forth about their “skills,” as the adults signal for them to get up and run around.
Last year, giving the recess signal would have triggered a mass exodus. It would have been like watching caged animals be released for the first time. But this year, the call to get up and go at the end of their lunch period has slowed to something of a crawl. They’re no longer so quick to rush outside anymore. Instead, they’d rather stay right where they are.
The culprit? Two words: Bottle flipping.
Here’s the thing, I usually pride myself on knowing what’s going on with teenagers. After all, this is my 18th year rubbing elbows in the halls with those strange creatures we call tweens and teens. But truth be told, it took pulling an innocent-looking 6th grader aside and grilling him on all the water sloshing noises I’ve been hearing before I finally understood the phenomenon that has taken over my school (and every other school in America, for that matter).
Bottle flipping seems to be taking the world by storm after Michael Senatore, an 18-year-old from Charlotte, North Carolina, turned a seemingly simple game into a full-fledged addiction. According to the Boston Globe, Senatore found himself without a talent at his school’s talent show last May, so he made a quick decision to stand up on stage in front of his classmates and flip a half-full water bottle (using his own signature technique, of course) in order to land it upright on a hard surface.
After he landed the perfect flip, the students in the audience went wild, as Senatore strutted his stuff around the stage. And now, it’s taken over YouTube — “bottle flipping tricks” and you’ll find no shortage of videos featuring kids flipping plastic bottles in an attempt to “one up” each other.
A quick Facebook search reveals thousands of teenagers perfecting their flipping skills, one bottle at a time. They’re flipping while juggling, group flipping, flipping to music, heck even a couple of British Olympians have created a new potential sport for the next Olympics: Synchronized Bottle Flipping.
But while our tweens and teens are collectively freaking out over their latest bottle flipping records; parents everywhere seem to be commiserating over the new craze that’s taken over their kids’ every waking moment.
“Someone please tell me why 14-year-old boys can be totally mesmerized by flipping water bottles upside down to see if they will land upright,” wrote one of my Facebook friends recently. Another mom I know posted this, after reaching what I suppose was her limit: “If my kid flips a water bottle one more time … ”
But plenty of other parents are choosing to look at bottle flipping from a more positive angle: “Could be doing worse things I guess,” one of my other Facebook friends wrote, following it up by noting that it’s “better for them than a smartphone.”
She does have a point there. And after all, shouldn’t we be rejoicing that our kids are finally obsessing over something that doesn’t involve them sitting inside, glued to a screen? Isn’t that some of what we loved about this summer’s Pokémon Go craze?
Apparently not, say some parents. To them, this bottle flipping business is simply driving. them. bananas.
“I don’t care if there is a science behind it and it’s educational,” wrote one mom of a 4th-grader I know. “I don’t care that it brings him joy. I don’t care if there’s a chance a magical genie will pop out and cure my disease and hand me a celebratory bottle of wine. We told him no more!”
As for the middle and high school students I hang out with every day, they think this new pastime is pretty cool. One 8th-grader even told me that “the adults just need to chill out and let us be kids.”
Water Bottle Flipping with the Cuz Too TUFF #WaterBottleChallenge pic.twitter.com/ge3kTfPuRt
— Cameron (@SpiderMonkey757) October 3, 2016
When asked to put the bottles down, others respond with “I don’t see what the big deal is … it’s just a bottle.” These 16 oz. bottles have become the bane of my existence, as I work on perfecting my own contortionist skills — while grabbing them in mid-air in between classes.
But if there’s one thing we can all count on with teenage crazes, it’s that this too shall pass. But in the meantime, maybe we should listen to them, and let them have their fun.
As I prepare for the countless interactions I’m going to have about flying water bottles this week, I can’t help but reminisce about the games that we used to play as kids that drove our own parents and teachers absolutely nuts. When it comes to “Most Annoying Kids’ Games of All Time,” I guess bottle flipping can now officially join the ranks — along with 2 for Flinching, Pencil Wars, Paper Football, and Slug Bug.