Jake Spruance ’19

In the late spring of 2013, an intoxicated sixteen-year-old boy named Ethan Couch drove into a group of people, killing four and injuring nine. When brought to court, his defense team described him as having a mental disorder called “affluenza,” characterizing his lack of control for his own actions because of his parents’ appalling tolerance. At the age of thirteen, Couch was driving himself to school. His parents pretended not to notice his underage drinking. His judge sentenced him to ten years of probation, virtually nothing in comparison to the charges he could have faced for driving under the influence and killing four people. Ethan then violated the terms of his probation when a video of him playing beer pong was uploaded to Twitter. His mother then hosted a farewell party for her son, proceeding to dye his hair a dark brown and sending him off to Mexico, so he could avoid his arrest. Every parent strives to help their children in whatever way possible, but a mother that disrupts the police and molds her son into a fugitive crosses a line. Today, this event serves as a classic reminder of the impact unruly parenting has on children, sparking the creation of the hippo worm.

This parasitic worm earns its name not for resembling a hippopotamus, but for residing in the hippocampus of the brain: the center for emotion and memory. There are two different strains, “hungry” and “wilting,” that each control the minds of their hosts in different ways. These common yet serious pathogens infect children around the formative years via the parasitic eggs in the host’s saliva (which may come from a loving parent), but the worm remains dormant until the mind has fully matured. The “hungry” strain secretes a toxin into the bloodstream, making the host act and think entirely on impulse. Strong emotions such as anger and joy lead the host to ignore any societal or legal boundaries in pursuit of their cravings–other humans. The chemical also rots the teeth and causes blistering skin sores to appear, giving the person the appearance of a rotted corpse. The radicality of these effects vary from person to person; some people affected by the hungry strain appear physically normal. The other “wilting” strain increases the host’s anxiety and whittles away at the host’s memory, so he or she cannot remember basic skills known to most humans such as reading, writing, and speaking. Eventually, this degradation advances so far that the host will utter high-pitched cries and lose the ability to walk on two legs, becoming almost animal-like. The salivary glands of both strains are worked into overdrive, and in a suicide attempt to reproduce, the worm flings the host at other humans to try and infect them through their saliva. Since the discovery of this parasite, new police forces have been established to detain the monsters, but little progress has been made in developing a cure for the worm. The only known way to kill the worm, and subsequently the host, is through electrocution. Parents and children are most concerned by this worm, fearing they will lose their humanity and be nothing but the worm’s suit of armor. Personal hygiene has never been more carefully pursued, and many households have started to use electric fences. The hippo worm represents the daunting effects of spoiling and helicopter-parenting on children. The “hungry” strain was originally created by helicopter parents fearing the results of spoiling. Eventually, the worm mutated, producing the “wilting” strain, reflective of the fear of children constantly monitored by parents. By identifying monsters, people can become monsters themselves.

The “hungry” and “wilting” worms share characteristics with spoiled and constantly monitored kids in many ways. The “hungry” worm makes the host have no concern over its actions, similar to spoiled kids like Ethan Couch, where there are virtually no rules. Actions focused entirely upon impulse are also shared between the two. On a more abstract note, the rotten teeth and skin sores on the “hungry” hosts are indicative of a spoiled child’s rotten behavior. The “wilting” worm shares characteristics with a constantly monitored child in that both share high levels of anxiety; children of helicopter parents are more anxious because their parents are more critical of their actions. Also, when the host loses its memory and cannot speak or walk, it shows that children of over-involved parents are eventually rendered incapable as functioning as adults because their parents do everything for them. Children raised by helicopter parents are reduced to babies that cannot walk or talk. The strains and types of parenting, while different, share striking similarities. Both parents offer whatever help available, forcing their kids to rely on them, while the worms both wholly possess their victims. The only difference between the parenting styles is that one child asks for the guidance, and the other does not. Although it is still important that a child receives proper care and nurturing, it is important to know when enough is enough. Only when parents realize this will the worm be killed, marking a new generation of independent youths and promise for the future.