Offbeat – 27 July 2012
Teenagers are particularly dumb when it comes to finding excitement, sometimes even dangerous to themselves and others. Drinking, drugs and sex have become commonplace, and that’s just the childhoods of US presidential candidates.
Scary stuff and fears. Every kid has something special. It could be ghosts in the dark, the thing under the bed or in the closet, or the wild thing in the back yard with an appetite and teeth just big enough to make a meal of the young one. It’s the truth. Ask a kid.
Now in spite of the logic of this, how is it that a kid manages to stay out after dark or skitter into the safety of the bed?
The answer is simple. It’s a thrill, and a delicious one at that. In spite of the horrendous danger, you can’t have the excitement if you stay out of the bedroom or you get inside, into the light of the house as the shadows begin to lengthen and turn ominous black.
I read somewhere that the patterns you learn in childhood are the things that stay with you for life. Perhaps somewhere in this, there is a lesson about not being too comforting to kids or glibly putting their fears to rest. Imagine if adults were so well adjusted that they couldn’t do a single thing without the reassurance of reason and proof. Oh, wait… that’s about half of everyone. That’s sad.
It’s quite acceptable to want thrills, but the thrills have a way of getting dumb. I started smoking for the thrill of being a part of my group of buddies, for instance. There was a kind of tingle up the back of my neck when I started. It was an illicit thrill. It was also the thrill of behaving like an adult. Back then, most adults I knew were smokers. The anti-smoking trip was a new-fangled American thing and not really trustworthy.
I carried on smoking even though it made my mouth taste as if I had licked an ashtray. It’s a dreadful habit, and I know I have to stop now. It is also now devoid of any form of thrill. That’s the story of the only vice that I still carry. I drink so rarely now that coping with the after effects means about a week of planning so that I can be slow for a couple of days after as the booze clears my system.
The need for thrill sensation introduced me to the bit of baggage I still carry around with me.
Teenagers are particularly dumb when it comes to finding excitement, sometimes even dangerous to themselves and others. Drinking, drugs and sex have become commonplace, and that’s just the childhoods of US presidential candidates. Other types of thrill-seeking behaviour are also becoming more pervasive: violent crime in particular.
Perhaps, in this, there is an argument for instilling fears of things under the bed that ‘come for children who play with guns’.
The thing that I never realised when I was a kid is that thrills become humdrum after a while. There is only so much you can drink, or so many pub dramas you can yawn through, before you decide to pack it in and go home without saying goodbye.
How do you get that through to kids, given that they so rarely learn from the example of older people? It seems as if adults should hand out matches and reach for the first aid kit in expectation of the disaster that will follow. At least there will be the opportunity to say something along the lines of, “Remember to listen when I say something is dangerous.”
The danger in that lies in raising kids who achieve middle-aged respectability by the ripe old age of sixteen and go on to live out their lives in a state of permanent joylessness or, worse yet, discover the thrills of vices at an age when they should be settling down.
It’s one of those Hobson’s Choice type of things.
I suppose the trick lies in raising kids who are resilient and non-violent enough to make it to the point where the thrills become banal and life doesn’t routinely involve the sort of thing that makes an actuary revise the rules of the insurance policy on a semi-annual basis.
There are bad kids out there who are becoming bad adults or who have become bad adults. These individuals set the bar on what is acceptable. They try to validate their choices by involving others. They are the things that parents most need to fear. Thrills should not be stamped out, but they do need to be managed.