What Were You Thinking ?


Helen leaving for Troy with Paris, as depicted...
Helen leaving for Troy with Paris, as depicted by Guido Reni (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What Were You Thinking?

The troubles of adolescence eventually all go away – it’s just like a really long, bad cold.  ~Dawn Ruelas

Psychologists have now determined that the physical development of the brain takes a strange turn during the teenaged years.  I could get very technical but the message is basically that their synapses, mental message boards and other neuroelectronics essentially start to behave like a PC that is overloaded with viruses and spyware. The teenager’s decision process becomes increasingly impaired as a cocktail of hormones, natural physiological changes and reality television confuses logic signals and reroutes information into inaccessible files.

The results of these mental brown outs are missteps of monumental proportions that defy logic and beg the question of an errant teen: ” what were you thinking?”  The answer to this enigmatic question was recently discovered and published in The New England Journal of Medicine. “Simply put”, as one psychologist stated, “we now know they ( teens ) are not thinking…”.

Neurologists and adolescent specialists have irrefutable empirical evidence that between the ages of about 13 -23, the brain becomes impaired and only later in one’s twenties, does the old gray matter reconnect to function at a higher level of judgment.  It has been this way since the beginning of time.  In ancient Greece, young Paris kidnaps Helen of Troy and kicks off war between Sparta and Troy.  Imagine the surprise when Spartan King Priam goes down to the cellar to get some nectar and finds Helen and Paris playing spin the gourd? Knowing this will spark  Pan Hellenic warfare, Priam looks at his son and screams, “what hath thou in thine head?”  To which the youth shrugs and dons his best stupid face.  Priam is about to say something and then shakes his head in disgust and prepares for war.

The story about George Washington getting a new axe for his birthday and cutting down the cherry tree is the stuff of American mythology.  The fact that any adult would give a teenaged boy an axe on his birthday is a slight judgment lapse.  The fact that he could not tell a lie is only partially true.  The actual question was, ” George Hamilton Washington, you just cut down our favorite cherry tree.  Boy, what were you thinking? “. To which the father of our country replied, ” I cannot tell a lie.  I dunno…”

Stories of teen retardation are as common as fleas on a dog.  In our neighborhood, a week did not pass without the eternal question, “what were you thinking?, being asked to some teen wearing the stupid face. The fact that it is an act of nature, not the absence of nurture, that drives these mind numbing insensitive acts gives hope to thousands of adults whose teens are beginning to exhibit signs of poor judgment.  Take comfort in the knowledge that while teenagers are behaving like useless extra-terrestrials, you are not alone.  Consider the following episodes from my generation (all the names have been changed to protect the guilty):

+ John Smith discovers his father’s supply of prophylactics and begins to sell them at school to other teenaged boys, even though 80% of the purchasers have no real idea what they are.  A full 100% of his customers carry them in their wallet as a sign of status but will not use them for years, two, I am quite certain, never.  Mrs. Smith notices Dad’s supply dwindling, does some quick math and immediately suspects Mr. Smith of infidelity.  John comes home from school to find his Dad and Mom locked in mortal combat and ascertains enough to realize his new business has almost brought down the house of Smith.  He confesses.  ” John, what were you thinking?”.

+ Twins Scott and Ted Jones hear of a great trick to play on people by putting a hose in the mail slot of a person’s front door and turning it on.  What a funny joke!  The boys decide before a two-week family trip to the beach to experiment on their own home and insert the hose in their front door. The neighbor’s phone call does not come for four days.  It is rumored that the plumber had to restrain Mr. Jones whose head almost exploded when son Scott remarked, “we did not think that($10,000 in water damage) was going to happen?”

+ Teenager “Tom” tries to outrun the local police in his Mom’s Cordoba.  Aside from its “fine Corinthian leather” upholstery, the family car has little left after being used by two successive teenaged drivers.  The vehicle has been reduced to about 120HP, two cylinders and a constant squeaking that is reminiscent of a gerbil running on a wheel. An octogenarian in an electric wheel chair could overtake the car.  Tom still believes he is Gene Hackman in the French Connection.  He makes it three blocks before being corralled by the town police for reckless driving. He and his friend insist to his apoplectic parents ” the cops were out to get them.”  Um, what were you possibly …oh never mind.

+ Teen “Greg” decides to break into the local middle school with a glass cutter that he was given for his arts and crafts class.  He steals thousands of dollars of audio-visual equipment and decides to keep it in the family garage until he can figure what to do with ten overhead projectors.  The concept of obtaining a person to fence his stolen goods is lost on this suburban BSIW (Brain Surgeon In Waiting).  When his father discovers the equipment and wants to know where Greg got it, Greg shares that the ” school gave it to him”.  One phone call and Greg is on his way to the police station and unable to answer the ubiquitous question, “son, what were you thinking?”

The list of teen miscues is endlessly reassuring and unsettling.  It is a timeless arcade of missteps, landmines and vacant thinking.  It is the realm of the naïve and invincible who believe their immortality is only superceded by the fact that only ” other people get caught”.  It is the universe of the thoughtless, literally and figuratively.  The good news is the brain eventually reconnects and these masters of disaster all go on to reasonably productive lives.  Post script: “John” is now a very successful attorney ( and sells legal prophylaxis) .  “Scott and Ted” are mechanics ( and still hose people ) . “Greg” is a well-to-do investment banker ( some believe he is still stealing from people ) and”Tom”? He’s a happily married, well-adjusted businessman, baseball coach and weekly columnist for a local newspaper.

( And he still does not know what he was thinking…)

4 thoughts on “What Were You Thinking ?

  1. Sarah Walton, MD July 13, 2009 / 9:28 am

    I’m thinking that this may only be a flaw in the male subset of the species???

    • Michael Turpin July 13, 2009 / 2:57 pm

      The Y chromosome crowd just did not get caught as much and were much better liars. Also, they could cry on cue which also deflected or delayed interrogation. Girls, are indeed, a devious race…

  2. Ted Pappas July 13, 2009 / 4:37 pm

    Hey Mike. Great article. “Tom” was quite a mischievous youngster. I especially enjoyed your reference to Ancient Greece (where it all started)

  3. Marion (Rogers) Riley Campbell July 14, 2009 / 1:13 am

    Hi Mike! Terrific to see you at our reunion- great to have a substantive and interesting conversation with you! You are spot on about teenagers- I’m just entering this phase of parenthood but I know what pitfalls lie ahead. Looks like I will have some fun reading ahead of me as I go through your blog. You’re an excellent writer- in terms of style and content. Keep it up. My very best wishes, Marion

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