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Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb

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"But, yeah, whatever! Kids are dumb! They can be used as literally whatever plot device you want, and it's totally fair no matter what they do!"

Characters (adolescent or young adults, usually) get together to do something manifestly dumb and often prohibited, but hey, they're young and so immortal, aren't they? The hold-outs are often persuaded because they don't want to look like a Dirty Coward, and often one of the bolder characters urges it's Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught. Visiting an abandoned house or performing a ritual are common. Bullying a Dragon can be a form of it; you're not afraid of him just because he can warp space and time with his thoughts! The Call Reception Area and the Forbidden Zone are popular destinations. A particularly idiotic Wild Teen Party may feature one, especially if the participants got very, very drunk.

Occasionally performed by a solitary figure (but even then he often bragged about it beforehand).

Popular Horror Trope. Often makes them Too Dumb to Live. "Hey everyone, we should so go to the abandoned campground where dozens have been slaughtered in the last year and have a party with bad music and alcohol! Afterwards, we'll all split up and have sex!!"

Compare Kimodameshi. Scare Dare involves even younger characters, children, and is much less likely to be dangerous; and Straying Baby a character younger still, who really is oblivious.

Contrast Deadly Prank, where someone else is imperiled. If whatever they do ends up backfiring and yet they get out of it without a scratch, then it's No One Should Survive That!. If the character is habitually dumb, they may be a Dumbass Teenage Son.

Note: does not cover shows that set challenges; this is something the characters dream up of their own stupidity.

Because this is often Truth in Television, no need for Real Life examples.


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  • The Incredible Hulk: Bruce Banner became the Hulk because Rick Jones accepted a dare to drive onto a nuclear testing site. To his credit, Rick has spent a good chunk of the rest of his life trying to make it up to Bruce as best he can.

     Fan Fiction 
  • This is basically what got Chancellor Puddinghead into power: A younger generation reached voting age and figured that awesomeness would be a better criterion for governing one's nation than say, competence. Or Sanity.
  • Found in Infinity Train: Blossoming Trail as Chloe's classmates are around Year 5 (age 10 to 11) and decided that it would be such a smart idea to bully the girl who is associated with their goal to be Pokémon trainers instead of just asking her father what it would take to be one. So they bully her, mock her, and do all that is possible to break her self-confidence into nothing, resulting in one dare to fight Alola League Champion Ash to cause her to run off onto the Infinity Train and to them getting exposed for their cruelty and then expelled from school. Even worse, they were warned earlier by Chloe to never do it again after she pummeled their ringleader with a paint can and got suspended, believing that if they just used words instead of actions then the stupid teachers wouldn't notice. Needless to say, they learned why you shouldn't bully anyone the very hard way.

     Films — Live-Action 

  • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 novel Brothers of the Snake, Space Marines are forbidden to try a stunt, diving into a sea trench and leaving something. One young Marine does it, and has an older Marine come to ensure that he needs no help. Then, later, another tries, and the Marine who goes after him is only able to recover the corpse.
  • In Poul Anderson's Operation Chaos, when Stephan goes back to college after the war, a prankster conjures up a fire elemental, and it escapes his control.
  • In Lee Lightner's Warhammer 40,000 Space Wolf novel Sons of Fenris, Lieutenant Paulinus tries to remember his travels in the city in his younger days. He was ashamed of them — "callow youths looking for cheap thrills" — but now, he needs to lead his men in those sections.
  • The fake terrorists from Larry Niven and Pournelle's book Oath of Fealty are in a word, idiots, and have almost no survival instinct whatsoever.
  • Older Than Print: In Beowulf, the titular hero describes his and his cousin's swimming across the sea as something they did when they were young and prideful.
  • In Sandy Mitchell's Cain's Last Stand, Ciaphas Cain observes that Kayla has too much sense to keep up with Jurgen's crazy driving, despite the delusions of immortality that youth gives.
  • In a Warrior Cats Expanded Universe story, this is why the tradition exists of having new warriors sit a silent vigil for one night to watch over the camp. A RiverClan medicine cat named Meadowpelt was worried because his Clan's young warriors were repeatedly injuring themselves doing stupid stunts, such as deciding to jump off a cliff for fun, or having a "who can fall out of a tree the hardest" contest. Eventually, he convinced them to grow up by having them sit a silent vigil for one night. They were uncertain about it at first, but Nettlepad heard a fox about to sneak into the camp and attack the nursery, and Molewhisker and Lightningpelt chased it away. This incident made them realize they never would have heard the fox if they had been playing around. They decided to take their warrior duties more seriously from then on, and the vigil tradition was instituted for all new warriors as a result.
  • In Robin McKinley's Sunshine, youngsters sometimes gang together to see if they can spot a vampire. Sunshine did it herself, and her little brother Kenny might be doing it.
  • Dave Barry Slept Here explains in the introduction why young people are too dumb to know their country's history:
    Young people have always been stupid, dating back to when you were a young person (1971-1973) and you drank an entire quart of Midnight Surprise Fruit Wine and Dessert Topping and threw up in your best friend's father's elaborate saltwater aquarium containing $6,500 worth of rare and, as it turned out, extremely delicate fish. (You thought we didn't know about that? We know everything. We are a history book.)
  • Edenborn has Deuce and Penny, who steal a Cool Plane, ransack pantries and wine cellars across Europe for victuals, and realize they're in way over their head with their parents.
  • In Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, the young students are showing off their spellcraft when Ged casts a dangerous and powerful spell. He nearly dies himself, the Archmage does die, and a creature is unleashed.
  • The informant ghost invokes it in Shaman Blues, noting that pure bravado makes young ghost try to feed on shady energy sources, rather than build their own reserves safely.
  • Skippy Dies: In a flashback to Howard's teen years, Guido LaManche rigs up his own custom-made bungee-jumping setup, and talks a bunch of friends into jumping off a cliff with it in the middle of the night. Everyone is initially gung-ho about it, but all back out out of fear, so they choose lots to see how it goes. Howard is chosen, but backs out of it out of fear, leading to his nickname "The Coward". Tom goes in his place, and is permanently disabled after the device unsurprisingly fails and he hits the bottom.

     Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the serial "The Dominators", Cully and his friends arrive on the island without permits, for thrills. It makes it hard for him to persuade anyone after the others get killed.
    • In the serial "The Invasion of Time", the Doctor assures Borusa that his faciliating the invasion of Gallifrey is not this.
  • Game of Thrones features a particularly severe and tragic example with Lyanna Stark, as revealed in Seasons 6 and 7. Young Lyanna (in the books she was stated to be around sixteen) ran off with Rhaegar Targaryen, the handsome (already married) prince she'd fallen in love with, rather than marry her betrothed Robert and without telling anyone what she was up to. Subsequently, everyone thinks she's been kidnapped, which culminates in a bloody civil war that ends with both Rhaegar, Lyanna and several members of their families dying. It can be assumed she didn't consider how disastrously things could end before she decided to elope with Rhaegar.
  • Virtually all the teenage characters in Twin Peaks are so dumb it's almost painful to watch. From Bobby trying to scam Ben Horne to Shelly offering live-in care to her comatose Ax-Crazy ex-boyfriend Leo (on Bobby's advice) to cash in on insurance checks to James...well, anything James does, ever, it's a wonder anyone ever reaches old age in this town.
  • For all the intelligence shown by the younger generation on Terra Nova, it might as well be Twin Peaks IN SPACE!. Favorite pastimes include making out in the raptor-infested jungle, among other idiotic pursuits.
  • Teenagers and young adults did many, many stupid things over the course of Veronica Mars, from vehicular manslaughter to accidental arson to assault and even rape. Many of the kids depicted doing these things weren't even stupid; it was Truth in Television in that a young person's decision-making skills are prone to be compromised by a number of things, including hormones, substance abuse and lack of life experience.
  • In the second season of Lexx, the crew finds and unthaws a group of Human Popsicle teenagers. When two of them find the hibernating Kai, they decide it would be fun to pretend he can be given subconscious commands, and tell him to kill everyone on the ship. Including themselves. He proceeds to do so, and only the main cast are spared by snapping him out of it, but not before the teens all bite it. What makes it extraordinarily dumb is that the kids had no in-story reason to do what they did; they were just goofing around in the arguably dumbest way possible. Even disregarding whether they believed it would work or not, they could have picked literally any other instruction than "kill everyone".

  • The "Weird Al" Yankovic song "Young, Dumb and Ugly" combines this trope with Poke the Poodle, and showcases the titular youths doing dumb things like driving with one hand on the wheel and swimming right after a big heavy meal.

  • In many productions of Romeo and Juliet, the fights that break out among the young men in the feuding houses are the result of this. The only cool heads among them, Romeo and Benvolio, get called out on being scared to fight. The title characters are also guilty of this themselves. They're teenagers, have known each other for all of three days, marriage was entirely for business and family honor reasons in their era and social class (Marry for Love was considered laughable back in the day - indulging in romance was what mistresses were for), Romeo was on the rebound from a breakup, and the absolute worst idea either of them could have picked was the cute boy or girl from the arch-rival's house. By the time it's over, half the cast is dead.

     Video Games 
  • The premise of Shivers is that you get locked in an abandoned haunted museum on a dare.
    • Reading some abandoned notes also reveal that this is why the museum is haunted in the first place. Fifteen years ago, two teenagers broke into the place (the guy because he was curious; the girl because she thought the boy was cute). After opening one of the Ixupi pots and being impressed by the "cool special effects" (read: a murderous spirit being released into the world), they opened all the others too. They did not survive the night.
  • In The Woods Are Dark six Irish teenagers decided it'd be a great lark to visit the home where a local boy had murdered his entire family. Despite the fact that one of them disappeared and another was found white-haired and gibbering a few days afterwards, five years later the four remaining idiots actually decide to go back.

  • In Erstwhile:
  • In Sinfest, one drone taunts another into diving through traffic.
  • Pretty much the entirety of Homestuck is based on one of these, though it's not apparent to the B1 kids that Sburb is going to be anything more than a video game (well, Jade seems to be aware of it, but for all sorts of reasons she's actively encouraging them to play). And it turns out the whole thing is a causal loop, so they were going to do it anyway.

     Western Animation 
  • Bumblebee in Transformers: Animated might not technically be a kid (as far as we can tell), but he's got the mind of one and does equivalent stupid stuff. The most notable might be his upgrading himself with illegal and dangerous boosters and sneaking out onto an underground racing circuit with Sari.
  • The Gravity Falls episode "The Inconveniencing" involves Wendy and her friends breaking into an abandoned convenience store, which turns out to be haunted by a reality warping elderly couple with a homicidal grudge against teenagers. They only survived because the ghosts were willing to negotiate with 12-year-old Dipper (technically not a teen), who has no choice but to to play the Deliberately Cute Child after spending the whole episode trying to prove he's cool enough to hang out with the teens.
  • In one episode of Justice League Unlimited, a group of college students performs a ritual that revives Solomon Grundy as a mindless rage monster. The resulting rampage begins with Grundy attacking one of them.
  • In the Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers episode "Adventures in Squirrelsitting", the Rangers are hired to babysit two young squirrels right in the middle of an ongoing case against Fat Cat. One is the toddler Bink, the other one is the teenage Tammy who is completely smitten for Chip. In order to impress him and show him that she's just as worthy for his attention as Gadget, she decides to go and solve the Rangers' case. Neither the fact that she knows the villain (Fat Cat has threatened to throw her and Bink out of the tree while holding them by their tails) nor the one that she doesn't have much of a plan or experience won't stop her.