5 Ways High School Really Does Suck (According to Science)
Adults tend to remember their teenage years as easier, since they only remember it as a time when they didn't have three kids and a mortgage. But ask any teenagers who are considering suicide over a bad relationship or SAT score and you'll find them just wishing that the shit would end so they could be grown-ups already. So who's right? Both of them.
Because while 16-year-olds don't have decades of debt and regret weighing them down, they do have a long list of biological and social pitfalls making their lives hell. So before you find yourself longing for those simple teen years, consider that ...
Teen Brains Haven't Developed to Fully Understand Risk and Reward
Here's how stupid adults are: They all know that a human body goes through massive and often grotesque changes during the teenage years, but can't grasp that the brain is just another organ in the body, and as such, it's also undergoing horribly awkward changes. During the teenage years, every little calculation the brain makes is affected by a system that is in the process of trying to upgrade itself to adulthood.
So while grown-ups like to bemoan how modern teenagers are always running around doing stupid shit while high on bath salts, it's not totally their fault -- the teenage brain is hardwired to make it crave what adults write off as "idiocy." It's not that the teenage brain doesn't understand risk; when teenagers look at a dangerous situation -- say, riding a shopping cart down a steep hill flanked by cacti -- they know that there's a risk of winding up in the emergency room having barbs removed from their asses. But whereas an adult is likely to consider this an unacceptable risk, teens consistently put more weight on the possible positive outcomes, like impressing everyone and getting laid.
You can still bone with broken legs, right?
That's because, by design, the teenage brain is built in such a way that impressing other people is more or less the prime imperative, and when you combine this with the thrill of risk-taking, their brains are flooded with excitement. They literally get high off it. In general, this is a good thing for the continuation of the species since, you know, otherwise kids would never move out of their parents' basements and into the real world full of STDs and paperwork.
But before you say "This isn't a downside to being a teenager! This is what makes the teenage years awesome!" keep in mind that this same mechanism makes the brain predisposed toward mental illness and addiction. Advertisers know this, by the way -- that's why they pour millions into specifically advertising alcohol to teens, even though they can't legally buy it. They know that teenagers are insecure by nature and employ psychologists to help design their ads specifically to exploit those insecurities.
And holy shit, does it work. The meager reward that an adult might get from, say, taking up smoking doesn't compare with the thrill that a teen gets out of it, thanks to brain chemistry. So the period in your life when you're most likely to try a crazy new drug is also the period when you're most likely to develop a chemical dependency that could last the rest of your life. And even worse, the urge to seek some kind of chemical escape is stronger because ...
Teenagers Experience Stress as Being More Stressful
Like Grandad always says, these damn kids today don't know how good they have it. They act as though their lives are so hard even though they've never had to deal with a mortgage, or with yelling at people to get off their lawn. But there's a reason why teens are so whiny about their relatively insignificant problems -- quite simply, they actually do feel stress more strongly. It's another symptom of the not quite fully formed "risk vs. reward" part of the brain we mentioned above.
The part of the human brain that makes you stop and reconsider doing stupid shit is called the prefrontal cortex. It regulates decision-making and helps control impulses. So let's say a girlfriend or boyfriend breaks up with you, and in your emotional distress you are considering doing something that could get you thrown in jail (such as spray painting the word "SLUT" on his or her car). It's the prefrontal cortex that lets you stop and look into the future and weigh whether or not a criminal record is worth the short-term satisfaction of turning that Honda Civic into the Slutmobile.
"Dude, quit fucking around and hand me a dictionary. If we do this, we do it right."
Now, when the cops arrest an adult who has done something like that, there's a good chance he or she was drunk -- alcohol messes with the prefrontal cortex. But in a teenager's brain, that part is still growing. It's more fragile and sensitive to stress -- you can put a stressed-out teenager under a brain scan and watch his prefrontal cortex activity shut down. And with it goes his ability to accurately calculate risk.
So when the dad goes to pick up his kid at the police station after hearing that he got caught pooping on the lawn of the math teacher who gave him a bad grade, the dad may be tempted to say something like "What are you, high?" (since narcotics also mess with the decision-making part of the brain), but he doesn't realize that a stressed-out teenager's brain is working with impaired judgment. It's not just a failure to listen to all of Dad's lectures on the subject.
"What did we tell you about dongs and babies?"
The Adolescent Brain Can't Process Multi-Step Instructions
Remember when your parents used to tell you to do the dishes, take out the trash, brush your teeth, feed Uncle Ernie and then go to bed, and how you would never get around to all of that? Remember how pissed your parents were when they found out that Uncle Ernie got out and ritualistically murdered your neighbor's cat?
Or if you're too old to remember your teenage years, do you at least remember the last time you bought a cup of coffee and had the pimple-faced kid behind the counter seem to get really confused trying to keep track of both the size and flavor of your beverage (until you finally just rolled over the counter and made it yourself)?
"I swear to God, if there's cream in this, I'm funneling it into your rectum."
Once again this comes back to the fact that it's the awkward years for the brain, too -- a new study shows that teenagers' brains don't have the part that handles multi-tasking yet. The frontal cortex is the part of your brain that figures out what to do when you get a whole mess of information at once and how to sort through it all, and the problem is that it doesn't finish developing until after you're old enough to drive.
This doesn't mean that teens have trouble remembering all that information; your memory is just fine by the time you get to high school. But what's still developing is "strategic, self-organized thinking." That would be the ability to prioritize -- being able to juggle six different assignments while still training for the big game.
"Wait, do I eat it, or ... I'm confused."
And when they do it wrong, that's when the grown-ups start yelling at them. Now remember the previous entry about how stress completely wrecks the teenage decision-making part of the brain and you can start to wonder how any of us make it out of our teens alive.
Not that the brain is the teenager's only enemy ...
High School Dating Rules Make STDs Spread Further
One of the most frustrating things about high school is that not only are you newly aware of the desire to rub your genitals on other people, but it's also the most difficult time you'll ever have doing so, thanks to the complicated dating rules of high school. It's socially unacceptable to date your friend's ex, or your ex's friends, or your ex's ex, or anyone you have third period with, because third period is the slutty period.
At times, boning almost seems too complicated to be worth it. (Just kidding. You'd surgically remove your own kneecaps for a blowjob.) Unfortunately, according to a recent study, all these complicated rules make STDs much better at getting around.
"I like you and all, but could we not do it on this huge pile of lice?"
See, the big difference between high school and adult sexual politics is this: Adults generally belong to large social groups and develop sexual relationships within those groups -- punk rockers bone other punk rockers, businesspeople screw other businesspeople (who work in the same office, usually), and so on and so forth. Scientists call it a "hub," and STD breakouts tend to remain isolated to their respective social groups.
But high school is different. All those weird social rules force people to diversify their sex-pool, so while adults have hubs, teens have "chains." And these chains are long -- one link in the high school where the study was conducted connected 288 students (half the sexually active population), so even if you've only had one or two sex partners, you've still effectively bumped hips with most of the school. Adults are actually safer from STDs because they tend to bone more often within their social circle.
"This could take hours. Throw me a fuck?"
Teenagers Are in a Legal Minefield
This one is worse in the U.S. than in almost any other country -- 41 percent of Americans will be arrested for something more severe than a minor traffic violation before they reach the age of 23. Of course, lots of them will get off with probation or community service (or if it involved a car, maybe they'll lose their license). But a shitload of them go to jail -- the United States seems to rely on Grandad's "lock all the bastards up" course of action, and as such, the USA imprisons its youth at six times the rate of all other developed nations.
"I just picked up a summer job. It's called 'taking your shit while you cry.'"
This is done under the guise of scaring the kids straight -- only if you get tough with teens will they see the error of their ways and straighten up. This works so well that of the teens who are incarcerated, a whopping 70 percent will re-offend within one year of being released. Which is to say, it doesn't work at all -- studies show that it might possibly have something to do with the psychological and social trauma of being arrested. It turns out that it's actually easier to just stay a criminal than to try to come back from that. Think about everything you've read up to now about growing brains and the effect on judgment.
After all, the fact that civilization doesn't just collapse in an orgy of violence is evidence that most teenagers who do stupid shit still grow up to be smart, rational people who contribute to society. For most of these kids, their thought processes are destined to round into shape regardless of what kind of intervention adults give them. So it seems like a "one strike and you're out" system might not be the best way to go about it.
"Do I have booze in the car? Man, if you'd caught me like 20 minutes ago ..."
If this sounds like the kind of bleeding heart "They're teenagers and they can't help doing stupid things!" thinking that gave us the Jersey Shore generation, we're not saying that all teenagers are destined to experiment with selling drugs and stealing cars. We're just saying that at some point you have to accept that teens are going to be teens. It's biology. So maybe the goal is to make sure they don't do anything during those malformed brain years that ruins the rest of their lives.
To learn more about your former self, check out 5 Superpowers We All Had as Babies (According to Science) and 6 Shockingly Evil Things Babies Are Capable Of.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The 3 Most Baffling Dick Moves in the History of Live TV
And stop by LinkSTORM to discover which hot babe you're talking to online is actually a 13-year-old troll.
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