When a buddy since kindergarten heard that I had no intention of going to our high school senior prom he swung into gear.
I still remember the plaintive argument he used to convince me to go: “This is going to be the single most important night of your whole life. You can’t miss it.”
Jim arranged the whole affair.
He set me up with a blind date after a couple of painful half-hearted attempts on my part to secure the company of a young lady failed.
He had the use of his mother’s car and an invite to the all-important after-prom party that would keep us going until the mandatory prom-night wrap-up at dawn.
Awkward from the very first moment of I handing over the corsage to my date I went through the expected motions with the bemused detachment of an anthropologist invited to observe the puberty rite of some exotic tribe in the Amazon.
A cabin in the bush was the site of the after prom gathering. Alcohol and loud music seemed to be its main elements.
I spent most of the pre-dawn hours asleep in the back seat of my friend’s car.
Sober and a bit cold, I drove my friend and our dates home when dawn finally broke.
Now, 42 years later, I can say without doubt that it wasn’t the most important night of my life, but at least I got everyone home safely.
The evening might have played out differently if I had been drawn in by peer-group pressure.
An interesting study on risk-taking in adolescence was conducted by Laurence Steinberg of Temple University.
He used a video driving game to compare risk-taking behaviour of teens, young adults and adults.
Individuals from all groups had the same number of “crashes” while playing the video game.
However, when placed in age-based peer groups, only the adults were able to “hold on to themselves.”
“In the presence of their peers, both teens (who doubled the number of crashes) and young adults — 20 to 25, (who had 1.5 times the number of crashes) were influenced by the peer situation.”
The Steinberg study results were published last year’s second issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science.
In it, he argues that peer group provoked emotions overrode common sense for adolescents and, to a lesser degree, for young adults.
There is a real time gap between puberty, which pushes our teenagers towards “thrill-seeking” behaviours and “the slow maturation of the cognitive-control system, which regulates these impulses.”
According to Dr. Steinberg, this gap “makes adolescence a time of heightened vulnerability for risky behaviour.”
As well, Steinberg argues that many of the educational programs “designed to change adolescents’ knowledge, beliefs, or attitudes have been largely ineffective.”
He suggests that “changing the contexts in which risky behaviour occurs may be more successful than changing the way adolescents think about risk.”
Findings of Dr. Jay Giedd, the chief of Brain Imaging in the Child Psychiatry Branch of the US National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, support Dr. Steinberg’s conclusions.
Giedd’s research (http://www2.earthsky.org/article/jay-giedd-interview) shows that the human brain isn’t fully developed until 25 years of age.
Much of the later development takes place in the frontal lobes.
This is the section of the brain in which our cognitive control or ‘neurological brake’ functions are located.
His work supports the conclusion that, when with their peers and emotions are running high, our young people who “know better” can have a very hard time “doing better.”
Parents, teachers and other adults in the community have to step in and act as our teen’s frontal lobes sometimes in order to make sure those grad events, like proms, are not only memorable, but also safe.