Staff Writer: Roxanne Hepburn
It’s the first day after winter break in eighth grade, and you walk into homeroom. Students buzz and bubble into conversation as each of them are handed a sheet of paper. It is the high school decision form. There are two typical options, public high school or specialized trade school. Where will you go? Do you want to learn a trade? Do you want to do that trade for the rest of your life? As a thirteen-year-old middle schooler, you are asked to take the first of many intellectual risks throughout your life. Children are tasked with making permanent choices that will perpetually affect their adult lives when they do not even know what they want to eat during lunch that day. They are forced to take risks on their future and gamble their potential happiness. Teens and young adults are expected to take intellectual risks on their future every day while simultaneously trying to mature and figure out who they want to be as an adult. Society needs to allow adolescents room to take intellectual risks that could fail without the looming fear of life consequences.
Human brains do not reach full maturity until the age of twenty-five; however, adults constantly push children to make life-changing decisions before their brains are even able to. It has been normalized in society for teens to decide whether to go to college (and take on many student loans) at seventeen years old. Biologically speaking, teens are unable to have the maturity needed to properly assess how to find the correct path in life. People’s decisions at sixteen are not the same decisions they would make at twenty-five. Teens are forced to take intellectual risks about their future, hoping to not regret the permanent decisions they made about their lives once they reach full maturity.
Once teens pass the boundary into young adulthood and start college, they are further obligated to take educated intellectual risks. Some students will change their majors several times throughout their degree because they cannot decide what they want to do. These students’ past intellectual risks had failed as they had yet to find the right path for them. Teens are not mature enough to take proper intellectual risks that lead to a happy and prosperous future. Some people luck out and get it correct on the first try; that’s why these decisions are considered risks. Because when they do pay off, they pay off well. That is why society has to enable children to take intellectual risks early on and educate them that a negative outcome is a learning opportunity rather than an immortalized failure. This shift in attitude would allow adults who regret their career field to reassess their situations and become aware of intellectual risks they could take, such as going back to school to find the path suitable for them.
Humans never stop taking intellectual risks when it comes to their life decisions. Every critical choice an adult makes about their life (where to live, where to work, who to marry) is an intellectual risk that will significantly impact how their life will turn out. Age, and the mental maturity that comes with it, do not ensure that intellectual risks will always have a positive outcome. A risk is a risk; no matter how many years of experience are behind it, there can always be a negative outcome. That is why teenagers need the space to learn and mature from the results of their intellectual risks without permanent consequences. Relieving the pressure on teens to get intellectual risks right the first time will enable them to take educated risks more often as adults. It would prepare them to deal with whatever the outcomes of their risks may be.
In middle school, what did you want to be when you grew up? In high school? Even in college? Does your current career line up with any of those past expectations of your adult life? Is your career even relevant to your college degree? How many intellectual risks have you taken throughout your life since your first? Growing up, you are forced to constantly take intellectual risks about your future that permanently alter your life. Society should enable teens to take intellectual risks and learn from them while still young. After reaching adulthood, it is up to you to evaluate those risks using the knowledge gained from your childhood to make the best out of those outcomes.