Yesterday I came across a news article on the death of a boy in Houston. The boy was shot multiple times and died as a result of the injuries sustained. He was one of many hundred partygoers, who had gathered in a mansion to celebrate spring break in “Project X” style. What does celebrating “Project X” style mean? It means that first you are no longer a teenager and second it is the title of a Hollywood movie released this year.
Naturally I went to IMDB to watch trailers of the movie and read up on what it was about. It actually sounds like just another teen movie, where a kid throws a birthday party at his house when his parents are out for the evening. He and his 2 friends plan on becoming popular at school because of the party. As expected lots of people turn up and the party gets out of control; things go up in flames, a person of very small stature climbs out of the oven and starts punching them in the sensitive area between their legs. In one scene, a neighbour even gets tasered when he threatens to call the cops because of the noise. This plot is not something new. I am assuming the only difference to the movies before lies in the magnitude of destruction. Lots of things are destroyed for one night of carefree fun.
Is the movie to be blamed for these teenagers’ destructive actions? Ever since it has become possible to “invite” strangers to a party via Twitter or Facebook, such parties have taken place all over the world. The teenagers simply have a cool name for their parties now. You have to admit that “Project X” sounds catchy. Teenagers have always wanted to party through the night. Flirting with the other sex probably causes the adrenalin level in the body to sky rocket. If alcohol is available, I shudder at the damage teenagers under its influence could cause. Yes, the movie is to be blamed for giving an impressionable group of teenagers ideas for such parties. No, the movie is not to be blamed because it can also be seen as portraying the vulnerable nature of teenagers and their need to belong to the “cool” group. These teenagers would have partied just as wildly and carried weapons around, even if the movie was never made.
I read an interesting article which explores the connection between age and peer influence. This article talks about a test carried out on three age groups; teenagers, young adults and adults. The aim was to discover how peer pressure influences one’s willingness to take risks. The test takers played a race on a computer. The aim was to finish the race with the quickest time possible. They had the option to stop at yellow lights, which would cause a slight delay. However the probability of maintaining control of the vehicle is high. Alternatively they could pass yellow lights without stopping. As a result, they risk driving too fast and crashing the vehicle, which would result in a longer delay. They went through this test twice. During the second run, they were told that their (same-sex) friends were watching the test from the room next door.
The teenagers were the only ones, who altered their behaviours. Physically the part of the brain that has to do with rewards became active, when they thought their friends were watching them. It is seen as the reason for their reckless behaviour in the second round. Interestingly peer pressure doesn’t only occur, when friends are bodily present. Simply the thought of friends being aware of what one does is enough to influence a teenager’s action. The scientists believe that this could provide the reason why a child, who is mature in the presence of his parents, could still act irresponsibly when with his friends.
This reminds me of some incidents in Germany, where kids beat up complete strangers in the public. They acted in groups and not all regretted what they had done. This apparent callousness frightens me. Is it futile to hope that teenagers behave sensibly even in the company of their friends? But there are still some well-behaved teenagers in this world, right? What causes them to behave well? Well-behaved friends? Something else? Do you have teenage kids? What is your experience?