Why do adolescents acquiesce to suggestions from their dumb-ass peers? Why will they do pretty much anything that their ignoramus classmates recommend and almost nothing that their more erudite parents suggest? In short, why are adolescents--there's no way to put this politely--so staggeringly stupid?
Don't misunderstand: I know stupid. Stupid and I are intimately well acquainted. When one of my running buddies says, "do you want to run another few miles up that way?" I reply in unison with the rest of the group, "Okay," as if running farther would present us with a viable opportunity of spotting a unicorn. And when, to the contrary, we find nothing but heat, humidity, and chafing, we once again remark, "Well there could
have been a pot of gold out there in the same swamp we've been running through for 35 years. And besides, I appreciate the extra miles because I am training for an even more, here's that word again, abundantly stupid, 50 kilometer event in the mountains of Utah next month." In short, stupid and I are old friends.
But adolescents are orders of magnitude even more stupid. They don't just end up in the medical tent after a marathon with an IV needle in their arm and a familiar pained expression on their spouse's face. Teenagers routinely get in to cars with other teenagers who have consumed enough beer to drown a small moose. But wait! There's more! Unplanned pregnancies! Sexually transmitted diseases! Drunk driving! Cigarette smoking! Drug overdoses! Preventable deaths of every kind and description!
Few of these lamentable exclamation points happen alone. "Don't be a dweeb, try this," inspires more first-time drug use than "I am lonely so I'll order some meth online." It may take two to tango, but the requisite number of adolescents to do something dangerously stupid is a small group.
Why do adolescents do more blindingly stupid things than adults? Maybe because the adolescents who make it to adulthood are marginally less stupid than the adolescent with limited insight into what "Danger. Falling rocks" could possibly mean. In grad school we called this threat to the validity of the results of an experiment "mortality." Not everybody makes it to grownup world.
Another explanation for the over-the-top stupidity of adolescents is neurological. Adult brains have a fully-developed neocortex, billions of interconnected neuronal pathways, highly sophisticated cognitive capabilities, and a mature corpus callosum seamlessly connecting the left and right hemispheres. Adolescents on the other hand have a head filled only with longing for belonging. Think of a mass of leftover spaghetti that has been left in the sun for a few days and wants only to smoke pot and have sex with another rotting bowl of confused pasta.
Stated more simply, neuroscientists have suggested that adolescence by definition is a mild form of schizophrenia. If the teenage years are indeed a mild form of a traumatizing brain disease, that would 1) explain a lot, and 2) be too depressing to write anything more about.
How do we keep our kids safe so that there is some possibility that they will be around long enough to give us grandchildren? Ensuring that they are more connected to us than they are to their stupid peers is a good start. When a parent says, "nothing good happens after 11:00" for example, this statement has to be more important than what the children's contemporaries are suggesting: "try this" and "get in the car" being just two horrific possibilities.
To keep your kids more connected to you than they are to the piles of unexploded dynamite down the street, take a lesson from the marauding hordes--gangs, yearbook class, lacrosse team, whatever. Kids want a sense of belonging. Their friends don't yell at them; neither should you. Their friends don't ask them what score they got on their geometry test; you might do well to keep your anxious mouth shut also. Their friends accept them for who they are rather than what they do.
Maybe your adolescent children's friends aren't so stupid after all.