Saw this article at the same time as the daughter of one of my friends up in Canuckistan just became a teeenager, and all I could think was “Aww, not this shit again.”
Let’s be clear. There IS no such thing as a “teen brain.”
There is also no scientific legitimacy whatsoever to these arguments. While some individuals mature (and age) more rapidly than others, the notion of the Teen Brain is bunk. What there IS, on the other hand, is a fundamental insult built into our society.
It’s amazing how much “mature wisdom” resembles being too tired. — Robert Heinlein
At or around 16, you’re an adult. But chances are, you attend a government school, which under “no tolerance,” can do anything ranging from sentencing you to slave labor for swearing (aka, you swore in school, so now you must come in and help the District inventory its textbooks on Saturday) to expulsion for daring to defend yourself against an assailant (or, as colloquially known today, a “bully”: somebody who won’t be defused with words, yet who you are forbidden to counter with force).
You’re sexually material, more or less as intelligent as you will ever be in your entire life, and just ITCHING to actually get out and do/see/achieve.
- You can’t rent an apartment.
- You can’t buy a car.
- You may have wine with your dinner, if your parents provide said wine to you.
- If you’re sexually active, you can’t have sex with anybody outside of an extremely narrow age range (and then everybody’s going to look the other way and pretend it’s not happening), or else your lover goes to prison. If you’re not sexually active, you have a front-row seat for your clueless friends lurching from disaster to disaster, sometimes causing each other real harm.
- You can’t start a business (because….) You cannot sign a legally-valid contract.
- You most likely attend a school where you have less personal freedom than if you were in prison.
And people wonder why teenagers are angsty and pissed-off all the time.
By the time 90% of people are 16 or 17, they are adults in every sense of the word, but their emotional maturity is relatively low, not because there’s a “teenage brain,” but because these people have not exercised any meaningful responsibility or authority, nor suffered the consequences (positive and negative!) from having done so. And by and large, that’s because society has forbidden them from doing so. That’s mostly because years of schooling have been extended dramatically, so people aren’t getting married as early as they used to. Teen marriages are rare now.
But those extra two years have also come to stand for “these are the years I experiment and make terrible mistakes while still being close enough to the nest that tigers don’t eat me.”
So… what to do?
Pretty simple, actually:
- Avoid the obvious traps — motherhood? GREAT! Single motherhood? Not so great. Does it beat murdering the baby? Obviously. But the statistics speak for themselves. Your absolutely charming friend who’s always making you laugh but whose life is a disaster and who always seems to bring out the worst and/or the lazy in others? He’s fun, but he’s not your friend — enjoy his company…at arm’s length.
- Accept and Understand the opposite sex for who they are, rather than who you want them to be, and put some effort into figuring out who would make a good mate (even if you’re not going on the market yet, proper husbanding and proper wifing is a skill – being able to recognize IMMINENT-DISASTER-MAN/WOMAN is a very important skill). Women are the gatekeepers of sex. Men are the gatekeepers of commitment. That’s why each tends to seek what the other offers.
- Have a plan – it will probably vaporize on contact with reality. Life does that. That’s not a bad thing — often it’s because reality gives you more and better options than you originally perceived. Drift through high school and/or college? Sure, if you want to be a barista. Get the best education you can personally afford, and have some practical fallback skill upon which you can depend if things go sour.
- Be willing to bust your ass. It takes ten thousand hours to develop a skill. And that’s not ten thousand hours of half-assing, either — those who offer shortcuts are almost always offering a quick trip to kicking superficial ass. Learn to do it the hard way. Boring doesn’t have to be bad — that’s a mental thing, and you can play judo with it. Also, it teaches impulse control, and sadly, that’s every bit as important as those 18th-century stodges said it was.
- Pay attention to your elders — but don’t follow them blindly, either. We know a lot, but … there’s no nice way to say this, so I won’t. Quite frankly, the vast majority of us are a lot more full of shit than we want to admit, yours truly included. A beard does not make a philosopher. And society is in the middle of huge changes for which many of your elders are not only completely unprepared, they’re also completely in the dark about what’s actually happening, and why. Many of today’s policies are biased heavily in favor of the aged (which is fine), but at the blatant expense of the young (that’s not fine).
- Know yourself. And once you know your strengths and weaknesses, get out of your comfort zone. Suck at math? Deal with it, and start treating algebra like a jigsaw puzzle or crossword. Good at math, hate talking to people? Suck it up and force yourself to network, thinking about who you know might be able to help who-else you know. If you’re not growing, you’re dying, and you can’t change and stay the same. These and other cheesy aphorisms are actually really goddamned important things you have to understand if you don’t want to have somebody else dictating the terms of your life to you.
- SEEK RESPONSIBILITY. And encourage your friends to do the same thing. You cannot have “lessons learned” until you’ve actually got skin in the game and the prospect of a real win or real loss that can’t be papered over or explained away. Even if it’s only a case of “he earned first-chair clarinet, and I’m stuck at second for another year.”
Those who give you trophies just for showing up, who seek to coddle and infantilize you, however well-meaning they may believe themselves to be, are your enemies, not your friends.