One great thing about spending time with 17-18 year-olds: You realize that your own cluelessness and lack of judgement at that age was normal. You stop beating yourself up over getting a D in typing back in 1992 because, like, you didn’t believe in typing.
As a teacher, I know that adolescence is characterized by a lack of frontal lobe brain development, so I’m becoming more patient with these poor creatures who have to make life-altering decisions without all their cognitive ducks in a row. Know what the frontal lobe is all about? Long-range planning, risk assessment, motivation, memory, emotional regulation, and empathy. Know when the frontal lobe matures? Around age 25 — after you’ve had a full 7 years to fuck up your adult life with intemperate relationships; intermittent community-college attendance; unmoored professional flailing; and maybe some naked photos on the Internet. And the kids don’t know enough to be afraid. Late adolescence is like a toddlerhood redux: I can do it! I can do it all by myself! This is MY light socket and MY paper clip! Stop trying to run my life!
It feels odd to look at someone twice my size; someone legally able to marry and vote, and say: “What are you supposed to be doing right now?” “Why is your assignment late?” “I need you to stop talking, or there will be consequences.” I’ll ask myself, Damn, shouldn’t this be self-evident? and What’s wrong with you guys?
The answers are No, and Nothing. The 17-18 year-old brain simply doesn’t hold information very long, so they honest-to-God have forgotten the dozen times you mentioned the assignment due date; they really don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing right now. That information has fallen through the frontal lobe sieve, so the teacher must retrieve it and drop it back in again. Exacerbating this cognitive reality are the kids’ cell phones; their texts and tweets; their novelty ring tones and relentless status updates. It’s the perfect storm of high-pressure distraction and low-pressure slack, meeting in tropical confluence and razing the seaside village of Late Adolescence.
Anyway. The mature, goal-oriented high schooler is a rare bird, and knowing this makes me feel better about having been a twit. It’s healing.
But I still don’t know how to type.