Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Young, Dumb and Daring
I often look back to my teenage years and wonder how I lived to tell my tales. Knowing exactly the stunts I pulled, makes me that much more nervous now that my oldest is sixteen. I’ve been fortunate that, so far, my son appears to be more grounded and aware of his mortality. My teen years were filled with the parental cliches. You know... the, “What the hell were you thinking?” and, Do you know how much that little stunt is going to cost us?”
I believe having parents who love you, teach you of life’s dangers and more importantly encourage an open line of communication can reduce the stupidity that seems to plague our teens. I still wonder if that is enough. What actually makes teens do the things they do?
First, let’s look at a few scenarios of two separate teens to determine what their drive or motivations actually were. We will also see if there is a difference between a teenage guy’s decisions and the teenage girl’s decisions. The first teen, is my husband Tom, and the second teen, myself.
Tom spent most of his time with his friends. Shooting pool, video gaming, and drinking were their favorite activities. Although Tom had friends that were over twenty-one that bought beer for them, it was still not uncommon for Tom and his friends to stand outside of liquor stores and solicit people to purchase alcohol when necessary. One of his friends, Jason, hopped into a car with a few guys and took off out of the parking lot. Tom stood there in horror wondering why Jason would leave with strangers and if he would return. And to think, all of this just to get drunk and “impress” our friends.
Tom’s friend Mike had a Camaro. He was one of those macho mentality kind of guys with way too much testosterone. He definitely loved to challenge other hot rods and engaged in high speed drag races. When there weren’t high speed races going on, Mike liked to just impress everyone by pushing the limits. There is no better way to do this than by speeding down the highway with the headlights out.
Tom, along with his friends, also participated in neighborhood pranks such a smashing halloween pumpkins. One particular home that was targeted every year was of the neighborhood little league coach. After being targeted for several years in a row, the coach became aggravated and decided to stake out the yard to catch these little hoodlums once and for all. Sure enough, Tom was caught in the act of smashing pumpkins and was given a courtesy ride home via the police. Not too big of a deal except Tom’s dad was also a police officer. Needless to say, it did not go over really well when the police told his parents why they were bringing him home!
Tom, again extremely intoxicated, was walking home with friends, when one of his friends suspected a group of college kids were throwing eggs. Tom, drunk and trying to be a bad ass, meshed words with the drunken college kids. Unfortunately for him, he had walked right into a hornet’s nest and he did not stand much of a chance to defend himself against the mob. Tom took quite a beating.
Obviously, Tom also lived to tell his tales. When I asked him why he had done the stupid things that he did, he didn’t try to sugar coat it and said that it was pure peer pressure. He wanted to be cool and fit it in.
Now, taking a look at myself, I also had a posse of friends that were of legal drinking age. Alcohol was abundant and we spent most of our free time drinking. This was the case when my friends and I attended a party in which we were invited to a “friendly” game of quarters. We had already slammed more beers than a drunken sailor on leave, so we were pretty drunk and could hit the broad side of a barn, much less get a quarter into a cup. Now we were sucking down shot after shot and could barely walk. As if this wasn’t bad enough, there was a pool in the backyard. I’m sure some of the neighbors enjoyed the show since the pool was hopping with intoxicated, nude teens. Fortunately for me, I left the party, clothes intact and without becoming a victim of sexual assault.
I also had a fascination for the stylish Lamborghini. My friend, Kim and I were cruising when I spotted a guy driving the most beautiful car I’d ever seen. A white Lamborghini. Yup, I decided to follow him! Oddly enough he stopped in a parking lot in front of my house. I was so excited that I asked him if I could run home and grab my camera. I blew threw a roll of film when the car’s owner offered me a ride in his pride and joy. Hell YES!
Kim was really nervous about this. What if the guy was a child molester or serial killer. I ensured my well-being by handing the keys to my Toyota 4x4 to Kim and reassured her I’d be fine. Besides, even if he did kill me, at least I’d die happy! The plan was for Kim to follow behind me to make sure this guy didn’t abduct me. Makes sense right? It does if you do not look at the two vehicles involved!
Winding through the country roads, he asked me if I’d like to see her open up. Of course! Within seconds, he hit speeds well over one hundred miles per hour and there was no sight of my truck in the side mirror. It didn’t matter though, I was the happiest I’d ever been in my whole life.
He did return me and I’ve carried the memory of that ride with me since. I still have the pictures as well. For the record, the Lamborghini is still my favorite car.
Lastly, probably one of the riskiest and dumbest things I ever did involved my best friend, Lisa, and a Mach 1 Mustang. After leaving an intense disagreement with another girl, more like an actual fight since punches were thrown, Lisa and I, adrenaline already pumping, sped along the highway. Unfortunately, we passed a state police officer with radart. Looking back, I saw that the officer had pulled onto the highway and turned on his traffic lights. Scared to death, Lisa asked me what she should do. I, in my infinite wisdom... told her to “floor it”. We then thought that leaving the highway in favor of the twisting and turning of the back roads would be the best way to evade the officer. Lisa looked like a pro race car driver out there as she hugged every turn. Lisa’s driving could not have been beaten that night and we managed to lose the police officer. We were never cited or arrested for speeding and evasion of the police, which was a good thing because our parents would have killed us!
Tom and I have spoken many times about my teen years. Believe it or not, I was probably one of the dumbest teenagers I have ever known. I continuously made horrible decisions. Honestly, I did not value my life at all. I believe psychologist today would say my behavior was actually suicidal. Fortunately, I never killed anyone else as I could have never lived with myself if I had.
Back to the question of why teens do stupid things. Clearly, we see that there are a few similarities between the two sexes. The first being alcohol! Both Tom’s friends and mine felt the need to include alcohol in our “extra-curricular” activities.
Does that have anything to do with our actions and behaviors? This is a no-brainer as any sensible person will tell you that your decision making becomes clouded if not completely impaired, when you are intoxicated.
The second similarity is both groups are involved in excessive speeding, though the circumstances around them are different.
Another similarity I see is both Tom and I were involved in conflict with other teenagers. Does this mean that all teens are drunken, fighting, speed demons? No! Although Tom and I had both been drunk before we reached the age of fifteen (thirteen for me), my son and many of his friends have yet to engage in alcohol.
Maybe the level of involvement of the parents has something to do with the amount of alcohol that is in a teen’s life? Maybe some teens are just not that into the drinking scene? Or, maybe some teens have different levels of activity in their brains!
The last similarity, and most importantly, is that both Tom and I made horrible decisions that could have ended our lives. Prior to starting this article, I was under the impression that teenagers really were just unaware of their mortality. Essentially, teens feel invincible! I could not have been further from the truth! I was very, very wrong.
Between the ages of twelve and twenty-five, the brain has reached ninety percent of its full size. However, “the brain undergoes extensive remodeling, resembling a network and wiring upgrade” (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/print/2011/10/teenage-brains/dobbs-text). In other words, there are entire areas of the brains that are underused by teens. Okay, I know this isn’t a huge revelation for those of use who have teens, or the majority of us that acted like teens, but in the science world, it was huge!
In one study, teens actually took longer to weigh the pros and cons of their actions, and even overestimated the risks in comparison with their adult counterparts. Adults use more of a grey logic. Past experiences or wisdom, if you prefer, seem to guide our choices between what is risky and what is not.
Teenagers, on the other hand, believe that the benefits, which include instant gratification and peer acceptance, outweigh the risks. Hence... teenagers choose to make hazardous choices. They fully understand death and mortality. Maybe this doesn’t make some of us feel better. Maybe it scares us even more to know that our teens brains are an incomplete work of art. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061211124302.htm
I will stand by my belief that continuing communication with my son, attempting to fully understand his circumstances, knowing where he is and what is going on in his life, and guiding him in the right direction will guarantee him the best possible chance for making decisions that would be mother approved.