“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” – Mahatma Gandhi
By Sean Pearson
There is a long-standing tradition of senior pranks in high school, but how do you teach teens the difference between a funny joke and a felony? The line between harmless prank and criminal activity is a fine one.
I seriously doubt anyone will tell you the decision made by two Homer High School teens last month to use a coffee can, an eraser and a few wires to questionably resemble some sort of incendiary device and leave it in the school stairwell as a prank was a good idea.
Was it harmless? Not entirely. No one was hurt, but students and teachers may have lost some valuable education time — even if it is during the final weeks of the school year. And, who’s to say if the “prank” had any kind of lasting psychological effect on those at the receiving end of it?
Years ago, pranks were winked at and waved off as something that just happened; seldom were there consequences. Today, everything is taken to an extreme level, and some student pranks just go too far. Each generation wants to top the last group’s prank, and the consequences can be destructive and potentially dangerous.
It’s the culture that we live in now; always trying to one-up everyone else on the things for which we want to be remembered.
Did the Homer teens show questionable judgment and bad decision-making? Most definitely.
Was their prank funny? Not in the least, especially in light of a society that witnesses school shootings and senseless violence on an all-too-consistent basis. But the line between serious and funny can be hard to draw, particularly for teenagers.
There are several elements at play that hurt the decision-making of high-school seniors. You’ve got a mob mentality where they’re provoking each other into doing dumb things. On top of that, they think they are immortal and untouchable. They don’t think things through because their brains aren’t fully developed at that age.
Recent research by the Harvard School of Medicine indicates that human brain circuitry does not mature until the early 20s. Among the last connections to be fully established are the links between the prefrontal cortex, the seat of judgment and problem-solving, and the emotional centers in the limbic system. These links are critical for emotional learning and high-level self-regulation.
“The adolescent brain pours out adrenal stress hormones, sex hormones and growth hormones, which in turn influence brain development,” the research reads. “As long as the brain is still in formation, things can go wrong in many ways.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in teens, the parts of the brain involved in emotional responses are fully online, or even more active than in adults, while the parts of the brain involved in keeping emotional, impulsive responses in check are still reaching maturity.
“Brain scans also suggest that different parts of the cortex mature at different rates. The parts of the brain responsible for controlling impulses and planning ahead – the hallmarks of adult behavior – are among the last to mature.”
Does the lack of a completely developed brain preclude youth from being held accountable or facing the consequences of their actions? Not hardly. But who actually ends up being the “victim” in a situation like this? Is it really about teaching a lesson? Or setting a precedent? If so, being labeled a “terrorist” for the rest of your life seems a high price to pay for a stupid teenage mistake.
After all, who of us, as teens, didn’t make a questionable choice or a stupid decision? Adolescence is supposed to act as practice for becoming an adult. We teach our children not to be afraid of making mistakes, as this is how they learn. Should we then condemn them for life for the mistakes they make?
There is a delicate balance between holding someone responsible for his or her actions, and branding them for life.
What purpose will it serve to label either of these young men a terrorist? Do we want to teach a lesson, or just hand down a harsh punishment?
Let’s be reasonable. We need to make every teen understand very clearly that this kind of “prank” behavior is in no way funny or to be tolerated. The punishment, however, shouldn’t put a black mark on their records that would stay with them forever.
How is that justice?
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