Thursday, March 10, 2011

If Your Friends Told You to Jump Off a Bridge, Would You Do That Too?

We've all heard or participated in this quintessential argument between a parent and a teen.
Parent: No, you can't go to the party
Teen: But everyone else is going!!!
Parent: If everyone was jumping off a bridge, would you do that too?
This is supposed to be the final blow to the teenager -- an irrefutable analogy that will make them see the error of their logic. However, today's news brings into focus the simple fact that teens don't always see the world the way adults do.

A student at Windsor High School in Sonoma County, California, was with about 45 other kids on a field trip to the Golden Gate Bridge today when a classmate dared him to climb over a four foot barrier and jump off the bridge. While classmates cheered and at least two tweeted, the boy climbed over the edge and jumped 220 feet. He suffered only minor injuries and was rescued by nearby surfers. His major problem at this point is that he may well be arrested for what he did.

What possesses kids to think that things like this are a good idea? Why would anyone dare another person to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, the most frequent place for suicides in the entire world? When well over 1,200 people have died doing something, wouldn't you think that might be a clue it's a bad idea? And what comes over those watching that they cheer rather than try to stop something like this?

This is just another in an endless string of examples that illustrate the major danger posed by the brain development of teenagers. They are big enough and independent enough to do what they want, but the frontal lobe of their brains is not developed sufficiently to think through the potential consequences of their actions. If you ask a teenager who has done something stupid why they did it, more often than not they'll tell you it seemed like fun. The possibility of the not fun consequence comes later.

This is also one of the reasons that teenagers are at high risk for suicide. Not only do they have hormonal shifts and a high rate of depression, but they have a difficult time thinking through all the implications of their death. What's more, what might be intended as a non-lethal self-injurious action or a cry for help can easily go wrong. They don't necessarily think about that possible consequence either.

Teenagers make mistakes. They are impulsive, and every one of them will do something at some point that makes their parents cringe simply because they can't think all the way through the consequences. As parents, we know this is inevitable. What we hope is that the stupid decision our child makes will not be one that kills them. This young man came a little too close for comfort.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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