Now, most of the kids in our survey consoled themselves with the hope (perhaps wishful thinking!) that their parents wouldn't think they were being too bad.  In other words, although most kids still care what their parents think, less than a third will let it stop them from doing something they want to do.

We should, however, mention one heartening exception.  In most cases, the focus groups and survey found very few differences between kids who had a strong faith influence and those who didn't.  But this is one of the few cases in which a difference did jump out at us:  kids in private Protestant Christian schools were almost the reverse of those in any other kind of school (public, Roman Catholic, and other private academies).  Among the small number of kids attending private, Protestant Christian schools (6 percent of our sample), nearly two-thirds would stop themselves from doing something they wanted to do if they felt their parents would disapprove.

Fact #2:  Under the influence of freedom, kids may do stupid things.
Like addicts under the influence of a real drug, kids high on the thrill of freedom may be not be thinking clearly.  To complicate matters, it's not just the high of freedom at work. 

It turns out—and we say this as respectfully as possible—our teens are not only addicted; they are also brain deficient.  Science demonstrates that the frontal lobe of the brain—the area that allows judgment of consequences and control of impulses—doesn't fully develop until after the teen years.  So in the absence of a fully functioning frontal lobe, teenage brains rely more on the centers that control emotion—which in effect means they give in much more easily to impulses.

Teenagers also subconsciously believe they are invincible, that nothing bad will happen if they drive too fast in the rain, become sexually involved, or get drunk and go swimming in the lake with their friends.

So kids who are operating under the influence of freedom, feel they are invincible, and suffer from incomplete brain wiring will sometimes disregard rules and consequences to do really stupid things. 

We asked every focus group this question:  "What if a hidden camera followed you and your friends for one week?"  Without exception, every teenager gasped or groaned.  When we pressed for details, almost every child provided examples of using bad language, lying, smoking, cheating, experimenting with sex, breaking curfew, or driving recklessly.

Trying not to gasp ourselves, we asked the kids, "Why do you do these things?"

The typical answer (again):  "Because we want to, and we can."  (And, brain scientists would add, because their brains are not yet wired to easily stop themselves!)

Now, before we move on, remember that we are not excusing poor choices.  But this does help us understand why those poor choices sometimes get made.

Read more next week in Part 2 ...

*This article first published September 28, 2007.


Excerpted from For Parents Only © 2007 by Veritas Enterprises, Inc.  Used by permission of WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.  Excerpt may not be reproduced without prior written consent.

Shaunti Feldhahn is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, public speaker, and a best-selling author whose books include For Women Only.  After working on Wall Street and Capitol Hill, this mother of two not applies her analytical skills to illuminating surprising truths about relationships.

Lisa A. Rice is the associate editor of Christian Living magazine, the mother/foster mom of three teenage girls and one teenage boy, and an experienced screenwriter and producer.  She's also the coauthor, with Shaunti, of For Young Women Only and a movie reviewer for Crosswalk.com.