Teens and risk

News bulletin from the New York Times: Teenagers take risks. Who’d have guessed?   

The article reports that unnamed child specialists are concerned that Internet encourages risky behavior in teenagers. The brain’s decision-making regulator (the prefrontal cortex) is still developing in adolescence. The story neglected to note that it’s still developing up to about 25 years old, as insurance companies discovered long ago, but the point is that teenage judgment is likely to be, well, less than perfect. The rise of  YouTube and Facebook, these experts say, present teens with a wide, sensation-hungry virtual audience to impress. 

All kinds of dangerous stunts are posted online for peers to admire, like filling a bathtub with fireworks and setting them off while filming the explosion, not a terrific idea in a small bathroom. How about flying off the roof of a two story house on a skateboard? That makes a sensational video, especially if you overshoot the net you’ve set up below. Note to teens: check to see if your family has good medical insurance before trying it. 

Whoever wrote the article, along with the “child specialists” quoted, must be fairly young themselves. That’s the problem with the young; they think everything interesting was discovered between midnight and 8 a.m.

Here’s another news bulletin: It didn’t take YouTube to introduce youth to the charms of risk-taking. Ask Joan of Arc, a teen who got herself burned to a crisp after leading an army into battle against orders 700 years ago. Ask William Bonner, aka Billy the Kid. Ask your grandparents or parents, or, if you’re over 25, consider your own risk-filled past.   

The thing that’s new is parents who want to sue someone if their kid does something outrageous. Think again. It’s not your neighbor’s fault. It’s not the fault of the store that sold the rubber bands your child swallowed hoping to jump higher at the next track meet. It’s not the school’s fault. And it’s not your fault. 

The culprit is the prefrontal cortex, which doesn’t carry liability insurance. Seat belts, safe sports equipment, well-chaperoned parties, rules? All great, but you can’t outsmart an immature brain.Do everything possible to protect all kids in the community, prepare for the worst, pray for the best, and wait. Soon today’s teens will be worrying about their own children, who will think they invented risk.

Wynette Barton, owner of the Hays Free Press, is a Jungian analyst and has seen lots of shenanigans by her own children and grandchildren.


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