Smart Teens, Foolish Choices
Why do teens who are smart do foolish things? Shouldn't they know better? In truth, intelligence and judgment are not identical.
King Solomon was the wisest of all men, but we see from the Bible that he did make some errors in judgment. Some of these involved the large amount of wives and horses he had, counter to the mandate of the Torah. As the Torah predicted (Deuteronomy 17:16-17), the lucrative horse trade caused Jews to move back to Egypt and the wives he married in order to make treaties with other nations worshipped idols in his palace.
The great Talmudic scholar Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha also showed poor judgment when he disregarded the Sages' ruling not to read by the light of an oil lamp on Shabbos (Talmud Shabbos 12b). He felt that he could be careful not to adjust the wick (which is not permitted on Shabbos), but he became so engrossed in his learning that he absent-mindedly reached out and adjusted the wick.
You will notice that even very wise, very holy people can make mistakes when they don't listen to the Torah's advice and cautions.
So why do teens, even teens who can get 1400 on their SATs or invent nuclear fuel cells for a science fair, do foolish things, like getting involved with sex, drugs and alcohol? Because, like King Solomon and Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha, they think they know better and "that could never happen to me." But it can. (Every teen who gets pregnant or contracts an STD also thought "that could never happen to me." )
The reason teens have such famously poor decision making skills is actually biological. The frontal lobe, and in particular the prefrontal cortex, is the part of the brain that controls prioritizing, anticipating consequences, and controlling impulses. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) shows that this portion of the brain is not fully formed until the early twenties. Physically, teens may be as fully-grown as adults, and they may be as intelligent as adults, but there's a reason they're not yet adults. This is it. It's not a judgment, it's a biological reality. Just like you don't get pubic hair until you're 11 or 12, your decision-making skills don't fully come in until your early twenties.
So what can teens do about it? Sadly, not much. You've got an adult body with adult hormones, but a not-yet-adult brain. The best you can do is be aware of this limitation. Realize that the adults who are providing information and guidance have been where you are today. And take the examples of King Solomon and Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha who disregarded the Torah, thinking "that could never happen to me." Realize that the Torah gave us the guidelines it did because G-d knows that it can happen to anyone.
1 of 1
Next entry: Spring Break "Gone Wild"
Previous entry: Clean Slate