Kids do stupid sh*t. They just do. They’re notorious for it. Most of the time, though, they make bad decisions because their brains just aren’t mature enough to know better. I know, I’ve been that kid. And I’ve done plenty of stupid sh*t that my now-adult brain would’ve smacked itself for because I was just that dumb.
I’ve thrown a snowball at the windshield of the moving car, even though my mom warned me never to even think about doing it. I’ve gone to the beach on the ninety-degree day and just used oil. (Idiot.) I’ve licked the frozen pole on the street sign in the winter. (Bigger idiot.) I’ve tried dog food. (And dog treats cause they go together.) And done plenty of other ridiculous things that prove that I had a very tiny, very immature brain when I was young. Just like most of the kids I grew up with and just like my own kids today. (Sorry, girls. But mommy still loves you even though you can both be knuckleheads.)
The thing is—for the most part—we pretty much expect our kids to be bone-heads when they’re young. That’s just the path we all travel when we’re growing up. And it’s all mainly because, when we’re little, we don’t have a clear understanding of consequences and how they apply to our stupid behavior. (Too much gray matter in the brain.) Then again, we’re not supposed to because we haven’t learned everything yet.
But kids do learn, albeit slowly. And they do, eventually, figure out the difference between good and bad decisions (through a lot of trial and error). Yet, there are times when we just assume that our kids (or somebody else’s kid) will do something dumb before they’ve even done anything at all. Times when we fire off a round at them because we just expect that they’re going to use bad judgement, just because they’re kids. And also because, historically, they do dumb stuff all the time. Most of it over and over again.
I’ve pulled that move with my kids and you’ve probably done it with yours. We’re all guilty of it sometimes. But when you think about it, it’s really not fair that we make the assumption that a kid is more likely to break a rule or get in trouble before they’ve even done anything, just because they’re a kid or a teen or even a young adult. It’s actually a form of profiling, if you think about it.
And this exact kind of profiling happened to one of my daughters a few weeks ago.
She was driving a friend home, down the girl’s quiet residential street—a street she’s driven down a hundred times before. A street she’s been conditioned to drive slowly on because it’s such a sleepy neighborhood. Only this time, a woman was standing in the middle of the road talking to a neighbor, and the second she heard my daughter’s car rolling down the street, she turned and started giving her the side eye. Then, out of nowhere, she started waving her arms like an air traffic controller signaling a pilot to throttle down.
Now my daughter’s pretty conservative by nature, so the idea of doing something wrong—like speeding—horrifies her. That’s why, when she saw the shade the woman was throwing at her, she immediately started second-guessing how fast she was going. She even checked her speedometer and was prepared to slow down and give an I’m sorry nod. Only she wasn’t going fast. Her gauge said she was barely going the speed limit, yet the woman was acting like she was on the Autobahn in a McLaren.
Even my daughter’s friends riding in the car with her were like, WTF, we could run faster than this! A classic case of a grownup assuming that a young person wasn’t using their brain even when they were. Something we’ve all done.
Ok, maybe people historically speed down that street and the woman gets a little edgy when cars drive by. I’m willing to spot her that. But judging by her reaction when my daughter drove past her again on her way out of the neighborhood, there was something else at play under the surface. Because this time, as my daughter drove by her a second time, even slower, she walked right out into the middle of the street to make sure she could slam her hand down on my daughter’s trunk when she drove by. And that’s exactly what she did.
Now did she do that just because she typecast my kid as a person who was more likely to speed down her street just because she’s a teenager? I don’t know. But it certainly seemed that way considering the circumstances. And it got me thinking about how our tendency, as adults, is to assume that a kid is always going to act like a kid. Even before they do anything.
So I guess my point is that, as grownups, we sometimes make unfair assumptions and we’re not always right, especially where the young people around us are concerned. God knows I have, even when I don’t mean to.
That’s why I’m going to make an even more concerted effort to keep the whole innocent-until-proven guilty mantra in the front of my brain. Because we all know what happens when we assume… we make an ass of ourselves. And I really don’t wanna be that ass. And I’m guessing neither do you.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at lisasugarman.com. Or, find them on LittleThings.com, Hot Moms Club, BeingAMom.life, GrownandFlown.com, Mamalode, More Content Now, and Care.com. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is and Untying Parent Anxiety: 18 Myths That Have You in Knots—And How to Get Free available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at select bookstores.