The Science of Teen RebellionⅠ- Woodmam

Why, for adolescents, arguing with adults is a sign of respect, not disrespect—and arguing is constructive to the relationship, not destructive.

Jasmine is an eighteen-year-old high school senior in Miami-Dade County, Florida. She’s a natural beauty with long dark tresses and ebony eyes. Though she was raised and lives in Opa-Locka, an area known for its poverty and gangs, she attends a competitive private school across town. (“There’s a lot of rich white kids who go there.”) Despite a demanding courseload of honors and college prep classes, Jasmine maintains a solid 3.6 GPA and was selected for a prestigious program for children of Latin American immigrants—kids who will be the first in their families to attend college.

The youngest daughter of two in a staunchly Catholic family, Jasmine sings in her church’s choir. She is often at the front of the church saying the weekly readings. Inspired by her part-time job at a local hospital, Jasmine intends to study harder this year and attend the University of Florida; she aims to become a doctor.

“I think my parents are proud of me because they know about some of the struggles I have had to go through—but I’ve always been very motivated,” she says.

Or perhaps, if they knew the rest of Jasmine’s extracurriculars, her parents might never speak to her again.

Long ago, she figured out that her parents keyed off her level of interest in a boy. When it was obvious she thought a guy was cute, they never let her be alone with him. She was allowed to go only on group outings, and dates were always chaperoned. So now she always insists that she isn’t interested in a guy—they are “just friends”—then her parents will let them go out alone. She can go over to the guy’s house to hang out unsupervised and have sex—sometimes planned, sometimes just a happy accident.

By the time Jasmine was fourteen, she was sneaking out of her first-floor window once a week, in the middle of the night. She was going to parties with local gangbangers—drinking enough alcohol that she was blacking out. Entire nights are gone from memory. “I’m a competitive drinker,” she giggled like the schoolgirl she was. “If someone’s drinking, I can drink more than them.”

Still fourteen, she began dating an eighteen-year-old. Her parents knew about the guy—whom they hated and wouldn’t let in the house—but Jasmine snuck out late at night to see him. They’d been having sex since their first month together. Her boyfriend secretly paid for her prescription for birth control and tried to convince Jasmine to run away with him. That had been going on for months before her mother, while putting away laundry, accidentally found the pills hidden in Jasmine’s dresser.

“She went crazy,” Jasmine says. “She was so upset she couldn’t even talk to me. So she had my aunt come in to find out what was going on.” Jasmine immediately lied that the doctor had given her the pills to regulate her hormones—and after a while, her family was convinced. As far as her family knows, she is still a virgin.

Jasmine started meeting guys in an internet chat room. They were always a few years older. One—who was at least in his twenties—came to the house to take her out. She looked out the window, ready to leave with him, but she decided he was too old for her—so she didn’t go out to his car.

In four years, she was caught sneaking out only once: the police spotted her and a friend walking down the street at three a.m., hours past curfew. The police brought her home, and her parents promptly grounded her for two months. Now, at a more mature eighteen, she has cut the sneaking out down to once every other week. “I don’t do those as much now… except for the random booty calls and the secret dates.”

Twice, an ex-boyfriend had gotten her drunk, then forced himself on her. She sort of concedes that she’d been date-raped—but then she insists both incidents were her fault. “I drank an entire water-bottle full of vodka, and I knew if I got drunk it might happen. I was stupid. It happened ’cuz I’m not smart. Thank God I’m not pregnant.” She pauses. “I sort of think God must love me, because I’m still alive.”

It’s not just the dating she lies about. She lies about things she doesn’t really need to cover up. The lying is on autopilot. “I lie to my parents every day. I lie about homework every night. I say I finished it when I haven’t even started. I finish it—but I do it at school before class. Never when I say it’s done.”

Jasmine explains, “I just don’t want to tell my mom something if it’s going to make my life difficult. She lectures me a lot—and I don’t want her to stop. If she did, I would think she didn’t care. So sometimes, I will tell her the truth—when I feel like being lectured. It just depends on my mood. But I only ever tell the truth when I want to.”

If her parents found anything out now, it would be bad but she’s less worried about it—now that she’s a legal adult, looking forward to voting in her first presidential election. “Maybe I’ll tell Mom someday. But not for a really long time. When she sees that I turned out okay, grown-up, so that she doesn’t have to worry. After I have my career, and I’m all settled.”

Until recently, we didn’t really know how often teens lied to parents. The systematic accounting was nonexistent. Most parents have some sense that they’re not hearing the whole truth from their teenagers. They fill the information vacuum with equal parts intuition, trust, and fear.

With other uncertainties in life, we have averages to inform a sense of what’s normal. When a couple gets married, for instance, they have a 57% chance of seeing their fifteenth wedding anniversary. If you’re wondering how long you might live, it’s informative to know the life expectancy now averages 78 years. Those taking the New York State bar exam for the first time have an 83% chance of passing, and high school seniors applying to Harvard have a 7% chance of being admitted.

Shouldn’t we have the equivalent statistics on how much teens lie to (and hide from) their parents?

Drs. Nancy Darling and Linda Caldwell thought so.
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