Thoughts That Hurt to Think #035 – Undeveloped Brains Make Big Decisions!

When science discovered that the typical human brain doesn’t fully develop until about twenty-five years of age, the government did a strange thing. They put restrictions on things like when a person could drink and vote and get married and fight in a war. Makes sense, right? You can’t prosecute someone who isn’t really responsible yet, any more than you can give them the same freedom of choice that you can adults. Where it really goes off the rails is when you look at what ages got assigned for these things.

None of them landed at twenty-five, the age when brain maturity is actually achieved. The drinking age started as a state decision, but the federal government later figured out a way to get around that. Under the threat of losing funding for their highways, every state that let people under twenty-one drink opted for better roads and a higher drinking age. That was in 1984. The year, not the book.

I know, it can be a little difficult to tell them apart.

The only age limit that was ever rolled back in the United States was for draft eligibility. Twenty-one was the first age they proposed, but they couldn’t fill their quotas of literate young white men when the big one started. Eighteen-year-old white men were suddenly able to be pressed into service, and even that didn’t turn out to be enough. That’s when they decided to let black men in, to keep those numbers up. You might think that was awful racist of them, and you’d be right.

You might also consider that women have never been eligible for a military draft in our county. That’s sexism, right? Funny how you never hear feminists complain about never being part of a draft. I guess they’re just after the rights that benefit them, not actual equality. A couple million women would have to be killed after being pressed unwillingly into service for things to even out on that front. Maybe then women could call themselves a minority without sounding like they’re just bad at math.

Not that I want that. I can do simple math, that’s all.

Some people say that women are still being discriminated against in our country, and they’re right. Others point out that more laws favor women than men, and that more restraints are being put on men’s behavior than ever before. They’re right, too. But we’re not here to talk about the myths and misconceptions surrounding sexism, or even ageism. No group is given less rights in our country than minors, and no one seems the least bit disturbed about that. Why is that?

Well, I’ll tell you. It’s not uncommon for a thirty or forty-year-old to claim that they were an idiot when they were twenty. I’ve made such claims myself, and I stand by them. My generation is the last that can breathe a sigh of relief and say, “I’m glad the internet wasn’t around when I was growing up!” Everyone that has come along since must bear in mind that cameras are everywhere, and your most moronic moments can now be turned into GIFs that will possibly outlive you.

Guess what else lives on forever?

Student loans are the only debt you can’t legally bankrupt out of in America. I’m always a little appalled when I hear a parent telling their kids to go to university before they have fully matured. Many of these young people have never had much opportunity to travel or work, and doing a lot of both before they decide how and where they want to spend their lives might give them a little insight. But it isn’t just parents pushing kids to go into debt they can’t get out of; partial scholarships expire well before those young people have the actual physical gray matter to make good decisions. The group that subsequently finds it most difficult to get assistance with their education is the one most prepared to learn.

And what about the young people who realize once they attend a couple classes or are exposed to campus life that they don’t want to do what they’re going to school to do? A lot of them can’t change course, and after enough time passes none of them can without starting over. How many professionals work at a job they hate because that’s what they went to school for, back before their prefrontal cortex had fully formed?

It’s much the same with professional athletes. Some of them get scholarships, but it’s pretty common knowledge that they don’t generally get the best education while they play ball at university. The focus is on what got them there, and the more they focus on it the more other possibilities fall away. Best case scenario, they get very wealthy doing that one thing they’re good at; when they age past being the best, they need to learn to live on that money for the rest of their lives. On top of that, very few pro ball players make it that long without an injury or seven; they get one shot at learning investing, through a haze of pain pills and agony.

And they’re the lucky ones. Trying to count all the young athletes that get injured in high school or college and never get that chance is impossible; they are forgotten the moment they fall. We have no way of knowing that they would have chosen that path if they had made the choice with their whole brain, because they are forced to make that choice years before it fully forms. Kids are cautioned against drugs and alcohol for this very reason; but what about sports? Head injuries are not given the credit they deserve when it comes to brain damage and the lasting effects of a young brain being jostled about.

Speaking of drugs…

Medicating young people has become a popular alternative to raising them well, and we have no way of knowing if the common behaviors of the next generation are a result of that or not. We do know those brains are not forming the way they would if they weren’t medicated, so we can at least say things would be different without this chilling trend. This is the first generation that thinks it can solve its problems by popping a pill, since that’s what their parents showed them. Naturally, it’s causing a lot more problems than it’s solving.

But that’s not all they learned from their parents.

The one thing the young people today continue doing that really needs to stop is having kids they don’t have the resources to raise. Teen pregnancies are still happening on the regular in this country, and that’s more damage we can’t undo. Very few thirty-year-olds think it’s a good idea to have kids at fifteen or sixteen years old, especially the ones that did it. Yet their kids are the most likely to repeat the pattern, after being raised half their lives by parents with brains that hadn’t fully formed.

Anyone getting married before the age of twenty-five is making promises a different version of themselves will have to keep. These folks should be able to say ‘till death do us part or until my prefrontal cortex has formed completely’. Then they could change their minds without consequence once they have a complete mind to change.

Don’t even get me started on credit card debt, and how the consequences of lending young people money for whatever they feel like buying is causing problems for everyone. At some point I’m just saying the same thing over and over in different ways, and you have probably long since gotten the point.

Major life decisions are almost always made with undeveloped brains, specifically the part designed for good decision-making. It’s something I realized before my own brain had formed, but I was still in the most marginalized group in America…so nobody wanted to listen back then.

One of the few valuable lessons I learned in public school happened outside the classroom, as most of them did. I saw the social dynamic that we like to call ‘bullying’ happening all the time, and it even happened to me. My first childish response was to find someone smaller than me to pick on, to make myself feel better; but it made me feel icky, not better. Later I took to defending kids who were being bullied, and the lesson sunk in on a whole new level. Now the conversation in this country has taken a new stance, and I don’t know that I can go all the way with it. Don’t they realize, as I did when I was a teenager…

‘Bullying a bully is still bullying!’

We’ll talk about that, next week. I do hope you come back for it.

Thanks for reading!

All the best,

J.K. Norry
The Secret Society of Deeper Meaning
Twitter: @JayNorry

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