The recent media frenzy surrounding the unauthorized use of Mayor Byron Brown's personal vehicle and the subsequent admission of responsibility by his 16-year-old son inspires me to make the following two observations:
The brain of a typical teenager continues to demonstrate that it is not fully capable of accurately predicting the consequences of impulsive actions.
The brain of a typical adult is wired, apparently, to have limited recollections of its own adolescent shortcomings.
I am privileged to work in a field where I hear the personal experiences, opinions, frustrations and wisdom of teenagers and their parents. On a daily basis, a typical American adolescent is presented with myriad behavioral paths. Acting on any one of them could potentially result in personal ruin. This list is a parent's worst nightmare: violent physical altercations, risky sexual behavior, experimental use of drugs and alcohol, unauthorized use of a car, stealing and cheating, not to mention the more commonly heard transgressions that include laziness, lack of respect and inappropriate clothing and language.
As adults, most of us can say we successfully navigated the challenging path through our own adolescence, a critical time in our lives when we dramatically changed physically, biologically, intellectually and emotionally.
In my daily observation of teens, many of the critical learning experiences that contribute to their successful transition to adulthood do not occur in the safety of a classroom or during discussions at the dinner table with their parents and siblings. No, it is outside these realms of safety where adult decisions are "practiced" by inexperienced but confident teens. Not surprisingly, some of these decisions are poorly thought out.
Yet from my own experiences and from listening to other adults, I find we were no different as adolescents. I can think of various instances during my teenage years where my personal behavior fell far short of my grandmother's loving but stern advice to always "be a credit" -- attendance at a destructive house party (where I learned never to host a party at my house), being placed in a police car after a melee at a high school dance (which taught me to speak respectfully to police officers) and taking my younger brother, at age 14, for a midnight joy ride in our mother's car. Sound familiar?
Many of the decisions I made as a teenager, far from the wisdom and protection of my parents and grandparents, seemed appropriate at the time. Luckily for most of us, our youthful errors in judgment did not result in death and destruction.
And when our misdeeds came to light, there were stern consequences. Even worse than the punishment was the disappointment in our actions conveyed by those we loved the most.
However, I know today that these decisions, their limitations and their consequences allowed me to mature to a more adult way of thinking.
Contrary to what seems to be the prevalent sentiment among many Buffalonians, the actions of the mayor's son do not warrant headlines. Instead, the publicity of this adolescent's misbehavior should give most of us the opportunity to recall the mistakes that we made as teens.
We might even recall the supportive people who, during our most challenging, exciting and perplexing years, helped us learn from these mistakes as we traveled our own roads to adulthood.