See that middle schooler? He’s a nice kid, as is the one next to him–and the one on the other side of him. On their own, none of them gets into much trouble. But put them together and leave them unsupervised at, say, the mall? Now you’ve got huge potential for trouble. Somebody asks that fateful question–“You know what would be funny?”–and suddenly they’re trying things as a group that they’d never do alone.
Part of it is physiology (see Blame it on the Brain), but another part of it is a version of “gang mentality.” Notorious for acting first and thinking later, two or more teens hanging out together without adults around will gather courage from each other. I’ve heard students tell of stealing bowls of Halloween candy from porches, throwing popcorn in movie theaters, and riding bikes off roofs. I’ve seen photos of girls dressed in goofy outfits in dressing rooms and heard their confession of running out and leaving the mess behind, laughing at how angry they’d made the store personnel.
While sometimes it’s just harmless fun, at other times it can be outright dangerous. Young teens have been know to sniff, drink, or ingest dangerous substances, as well as set fire to, blow up, or even microwave crazy items. Afterwards, of course, they suffer remorse (and possibly bodily harm), but at the time it seems like such a great idea.
Parents who drop off their young teens without staying with them–or at least tailing them at a discreet distance–are putting their kids at risk. Hang around and be available, and you’ll find that your presence is often enough to head off trouble.
Think of yourself as a cross between Jiminy Cricket and the Secret Service.