A Breeding Ground for Stupid
The other day I was talking with a high school student and he was going on about some of the less- than-stellar things some of his peers were doing. As he walked out my door, he looked over his shoulder and said, “High school is a breeding ground for stupid.” That phrase gave me a chuckle. It also prompted my writing this post.
High school is indeed a breeding ground for stupid as well as social angst, peer pressure, experimentation and discovery. There is considerable research into teenagers and their brains and the conclusion is pretty much what you know. Teenagers are more likely to take risks than you are and they are more drawn to rewards over consequences. While you might be more concerned about tonight’s behavior on your performance tomorrow, your average teenage will opt for the excitement of the moment and worry about the consequences later. I could cite a lot of research to support these claims, that but my guess is you know this and the greater issue is how you deal with that as a parent.
If you are like most parents you don’t deal with it as well as you might. As your child grows up, your greatest responsibility continues to be her/his well-being and safety. She/he walks out the door and you say: “Be careful.” And maybe: “I love you.” You don’t say: “Go do something risky and stupid.” You know she/he is able to do that without your encouragement.
The good news/bad news is that most children will not attempt that many stupid things by themselves. They are going to do it with others. Teens drive faster when there are other people in the car. They engage in riskier behaviors as they are prompted and encouraged (or taunted) by their peers.
Kids do need to push their boundaries. They need to engage in new activities and discover how they relate to the world. They can’t stay within the safer confines of your home. Even though I always slept better when my daughter was home at night in her bed, I knew she needed to go out in the world and see what is had in store for her. As children gain their independence they push against the constraints that previously protected them. They need to push and parents need to know when to yield and when to hold the line. Unfortunately, you can’t really know when to let go and when to hold on. When you open your mouth, out comes your best guess about what is most advantageous direction to go. The effects of your decisions are sometimes known right away, but more often are not fully known till further down the line.
Parents need to trust their instincts and they need to trust their child. “My parents don’t trust me” is a major complaint I hear from teens. Along with: “They are too restrictive.” Plenty of parents do trust their children and are not overly restrictive. Those kids don’t come and complain to me.
I certainly do not have the inside track on when to say yes and when to say no. I do know you need to be saying both and as your teen ages the “Yeses” need to outnumber the “No’s.”The teens who have the most difficulty going to college or heading out into the world are the ones who came from the most restrictive homes. If your child has had very little responsibility for taking care herself/himself and making judgment calls out of the home, it is going to take some time for them to adapt to having more options and less parental consequences. Over indulgence is not an uncommon experience as they partake of the previously forbidden fruits.
High school students do breed off of one another. Fads are born here, language is invented and they are more acutely aware of popular culture than you are. They know what is trending such that whatever you are doing is behind the times. While there is truth to that and most parents are not slaves to the latest thing. Yet just since so and so’s parents let her do something does not mean you have to. It may however mean you are going to be hearing about it again and again until you relent or your child moves on to another issue. They have a greater pulse on what is happening in the social world around them and that greater awareness breeds greater desire to be joining in.
Outside my office are some tables where 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th graders congregate throughout the day. It is kind of a watering hole. At any time different herds assemble. The volume level is much higher than in the faculty lounge. The physical touching, shoving, sitting on, hugging, hand slapping and bouncing is maybe replicated in some locker rooms around the world, but not many office buildings.
Teens bring out the energy in each other. They potentiate one another. So, yes they do bring out the stupid in each other along with the genius. They are in perpetual motion and emotion and all you can do as a parent is try to enjoy the ride and occasionally be able to give directions and remind them of the rules of the road.