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Punch-Outs"? If you are a parent, particularly of an
adolescent boy, and don't know what I'm talking about, it's time to
wake up! Fast!
Young Men Risking It All
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Young Men Risking It All
But scientists say there are biological and social reasons why youths, especially boys, engage in such risky behavior. And it's not just unruly kids who live on the edge.
What seemed like an innocent game of "punch-out" left a 16-year-old San Jose boy dead after his friend slugged him in the chest. It also left teens across the Bay Area nodding to their parents: Yep, teens do these kinds of things all the time.
"We're kids," explained Carlos Atero, a 17-year-old Milpitas High School student who admits to hanging from the back of a car while skateboarding. "We like danger."
Before you judge, experts say, look no further than your own youth.
he zest for risky behavior is a prime example of "male biology at work," said Michael Gurian, author of The Wonder of Boys and the soon-to-be-published What Could He Be Thinking? And Gurian should know: As a teen, he rode on the roof of a speeding Buick station wagon while playing his French horn.
"It's just dumb stuff," he said, "but it's teenage boy
The risk-taking, thrill-seeking attitudes that have propelled some youths to copy scenes from "Jackass: The Movie" and others to do things that would have left Charles Darwin dumbfounded are due in part to physiology and partly to sociology, Gurian said.
Blame testosterone. Peer pressure. Machismo. Alcohol. Boredom. A desire to woo the girls. And, of course, developmentally immature brains that are not yet wired to fully understand that consequences accompany risks.
Suddenly, driving with your lights off or setting a buddy's clothes on fire almost makes perfect sense.
"I'm not arguing that it's not stupid," said Don Elium, the Walnut Creek author of Raising a Teenager: Parents and the Nurturing of a Responsible Teen. But if any parent will just think about when they were teenagers, they'll know of several teenagers who stood up in a convertible driving very fast or lay down in the road in the middle of the night. They did it, or know someone who did."
Which isn't to say that all teens nowadays choose to put their personal safety at risk. Or that those who do are solely of the male persuasion - experts say girls tent to take risks by binge drinking or engaging in sexual activity.
While many Bay Area parents may be struggling to understand why two teens would hit each other until one couldn't take it any more, many young adults are asking "Why wouldn't they?" Since when have teenagers, especially boys, ever obeyed the speed limit or always said no to drugs, they said.
"It's hormones. We're cavemen," said Donnie Frank, a
20-year-old San Jose man who sports 24 tattoos and several body
piercings. "I think the bottom line is, what doesn't kill you makes
May psychologists believe that taking risks is actually a normal part of development, a way for kids to try on different roles, learn their limitations and define themselves.
But parents can help their teens stay safe by encouraging them to take risks in academics, athletics or other creative endeavors, while avoiding dares or dangerous pranks, said Dr. Samuel L. Judice, assistant director of outpatient clinics for children and adolescents at the University of California-San Francisco's Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute.
And if parents were wise, Judice said, they would all ask their teens what they think about the death of Jacob Salas Jr. - the San Jose teen who died during a game of punches - even if their children are among the "good kids." High-risk behaviors are so firmly rooted in adolescence that parents may not realize their kids view them as anything but normal.
"Some of the kids I know who have done this are incredibly bright, from some of the best families," said Judice, who has worked with kids who participate in "punch-outs". "I'm sure their parents thought 'My kids would never do this."
And the problem is, most kids don't they they can get hurt as a result.
In 1991, an Oak Grove High School student also died during a punching game. Russell Edwards went into cardiac arrest after a blow to his chest, leaving his classmates stunned.
"They think they're invincible," said Jose Montes de Oca, executive director of the Alum Rock Counseling Center. "They're at a young age where they don't consider many of those risks, and unfortunately as parents we don't warn them of those risks either."
Sparky Haralan, executive director of the Bill Wilson Center, which counsels San Jose youths, said her organization often discusses the dangers of risk-taking with its clients.
"We try to point out to them you only have one body - don't push it too far because you're still going to need it later," Harlan said. But she knows that teens will only listen so much, something that hasn't changed much over the decades. When Harlan was growing up, "the game we used to play was how long could you hold on to the electric fence before letting it go?" As as adult, Harlan just sighs.
"Kids," Harlan said, "see dangerous things differently than us."
Carlos Flores, a student at Andrew Hill High School, agrees.
Admitting that he has drag-raced - and won - and hung onto the
roof of a car while a buddy was driving, Flores said he recognizes
the risks. Still, he added, "Sometimes guys are bored and they just
want to have some adrenaline rushes."
Source: San Jose (CA) Mercury News, 7/30/03 Julie Sevrens Lyons at email@example.com or 408.920.5989