Stupid Kids Doing Stupid Stuff

This little piece comes to us from the Rt. Rev. Scott Benhase. In the film “20th […]

Guest Contributor / 5.21.18

This little piece comes to us from the Rt. Rev. Scott Benhase.

In the film “20th Century Women,” there’s a compelling scene between a mother and her teenaged son. The mother has just brought him home from the hospital; he was rushed there after playing a game with his friends that went wrong. The game involved him hyperventilating while another boy stood behind him, wrapping his arms around his torso, and squeezing. Which caused him to pass out. Normally, a person comes to just a few seconds after this, but in this case, the boy remained unconscious. By the time his distraught mother arrives at the hospital, he has awakened, and the doctors determine he can go home.

Later, when she brings him home, they have an argument that (to my memory) starts out this way:

Mother: “Why did you do something so stupid?”
Son: “I dunno. I mean, everyone was doing it.”
Mother: “So you just went along with it?”
Son: “It looked like fun.”

The argument in the film, as I recall, goes on for some time after that, but the mother really should’ve stopped there. Asking a teenage boy why he did something stupid is pretty much a waste of time. The son honestly replies: “I dunno.” A parent isn’t going to get a reasoned, articulate answer to that question. He doesn’t really know why he did it. We parents who’ve lived through the teenage years of our children know that to be true. And our parents knew that to be true when we were teenagers. We had no idea why we did the stupid things we did. We just did them. In fact, I did the very same stupid hyperventilating game many times as a teenager. I did many other, far riskier, stupid things that I never told my poor mama about while she was alive because I knew it would’ve probably caused some post-traumatic episode inside her.

We now know through neuroscience that the brains of teenagers, particularly teenage boys, aren’t developed enough to weigh the pros and cons of doing stupid stuff. They really don’t know why they do the things they do. When they’re “doubled-dared” to put their tongue on a frozen pole or to jump off the roof of a house, they just might do so. Why? Because they’re stupid, that’s why. I can still hear my father saying to me: “I will let you make up your own mind when you have a mind worth making up!” He didn’t know the brain science; he just knew that, as a teenager, I was a walking bundle of stupid.

When I look back at all the stupid things I did as a teenager, it’s a wonder I lived to adulthood. That’s why, as parents, it does no good to ask our teenager why he did something stupid. We should know the answer already, because we’ve been through the same stupid phase. I’m certainly no parenting expert, but I believe our best response is to hug them tightly, sloppily kiss them in a way that’s sure to embarrass them, and then tell them how much we love them. That’s a grace imputed to them, and knowing they’re loved unconditionally just might give them pause the next time a stupid idea enters their underdeveloped, teenaged brain. But then again, maybe not. We can only hope.