Growing up, I did not take too many stupid or silly risks. You could say that being out on a farm limits the amount of trouble one could get into. To a certain degree, that may be true. A farm, however, is a vast playground of sorts.
The worst risk I took was joy riding down an old dirt road. My parents rarely left all of us at home for a get-away vacation. When we were all older teenagers, though, they took a trip to California. This was the first, and only, time we were given the responsibility of caring for ourselves.
During this time of trust, a friend and I went on a joy ride in a 1963 Chevrolet Biscayne. This was quite a car. It had three on the column; it was fun to drive. Maybe not the most current car for teens, but it was transportation.
I was driving and thought it would be “cool” to drive 60-70 miles per hour down a dirt road. And, I mean, dirt road. Not gravel, not rough payment; it was dirt tracks with green grass in the middle. Needless to say, it was not a place to be driving at high speeds.
As I drove down the hill, the low area had mud and water on the tracks. When I hit that pool of mud, the car’s steering took on a life of its own, and the next thing I remember was crawling out the car’s passenger window as its roof was on the ground. Somehow, the car had rolled over and lay perfectly with its wheels pointing to the sky.
All I could think about, at first, was the car would blow up just as I had seen in all those old TV detective shows. We just need to get out and get away as fast as possible. The next thought was “what have I done!”
Remarkably, my friend and I were not hurt. In the mid-1970s, seat belts were not worn, even if available, especially in the rural areas of South Dakota. I just remember running home about 2 ½ miles, swearing I would never drive again. I knew there would be some consequence for my reckless risk-taking, especially when my parents came home from their vacation. Needless to say, it was not a telephone call I was looking forward to having.
I was lucky. No doubt. My friend was not hurt; I was not hurt. To this day, I thank God that nothing bad happened to either of us, because I can imagine what could have happened.
Fast forward about eight plus years, and a group of five kids went for a joy ride of their own. I was in college already, yet the impact was felt. Although my memory is hazy on what exactly happened, it was a similar accident to mine. In this case, one of the boys died. Life at its early blossoming phase clipped from any further beauty and expressions in this world.
It is beyond my comprehension on how one path can get “lucky” with a stupid risk and another get “unlucky.” How those decisions are made is unnerving. I guess this is where faith comes into play as well as trying to make something of the life you have, every minute you have.
The point of all this is that we all take stupid risks, make dumb decisions. You never know which ones you will survive and which ones will knock you off life’s balancing beam. As we live our life, we need to do it boldly yet balanced with sanity, clarity of purpose, and rational thought behind choices made.
Youthful risks happen. Listening to your parents is not on the top of a youthful mind. Understanding consequences of your actions doesn’t enter your presence of invincibility.
For these young minds and actions, create a habit to get your attention before making a critical choice. Snap your finger before making a snap decision; this may create enough of a hesitation for a second thought to enter your mind and ensure the risk being taken is a reasonable one.
For us as youth-turned-adults, we cannot always prevent our sons or daughters from taking stupid risks. We can coach, guide, remind, and exhibit behaviors and choices we would want them to make. Sometimes, we may need to let them fail and pray faithfully that their life, and the lives around them, will remain unharmed and blossom fully.
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Biscayne Days: Taking Youthful Risks
Actually, we CAN help their brain development. They can’t get through their teen journey in great shape without the help of adults. Getting a teen to think twice helps get them to reason and foresee consequences. This exercises their pre-frontal lobes, which enables the desired development. My favorite book on this topic is “Why Do They Act That Way?” by David Walsh, Ph.D. Best wishes!
Perfect. I will read that one next. Thanks so much for your comments and resources, Denny!
Interesting story! Here’s what was really going on…
All teens are in danger of taking risks like this. The reason is that during adolescence their prefrontal cortex is finally developing, with the process of blossoming and pruning of dendritic connections in process. So the part of the cortex that makes the biggest difference in adult life, the part of the brain the foresees cause and effect, uses reason and critical judgment, is “under construction.” So to make decisions the teen brain instead often opts to use the amygdala, the more primitive part of the limbic system that triggers emotional reaction. In other words, instead of thinking about consequences, the teen often thinks about how much fun it will be. They don’t even think about the risks. When this kind of decision making is used to operate a car, death often happens. Or it doesn’t happen. The laws of physics and chance take over. For you, it didn’t happen.
I’ve written about this on my blog under the category of “The Teen Journey.”
Denny, Thanks so much for your comment and insights! I enjoyed your post about “The Teen Journey” and, in fact, I am now reading: Inside the Teenage Brain: Parenting a Work in Progress. I believe this is one that you recommended.
I know it may be oversimplifying an approach, but it seems that just getting a teen to think twice on some choices would make a huge difference. As a society, I believe we have glossed over much of this and are not supporting our teens in a more current way. What I mean is that today, even more so than before, there are numerous opportunities for teens to make choices – from Facebook to texting to whatever else. Yet, we deliver little training to them in churches and schools to provide a better foundation. I realize we cannot change their brain development, but maybe we can talk more about ways to make better decisions as they grow.