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Sick Kid Demands That He Go to School, and Other Stories of Teenagers Gone Wild

It's one thing that we have to pick up after them, remind them to do their chores, tell them to put away their iPods when they have homework, and buy them shoes every six weeks; now we have to be their frontal lobes, too.
09/07/2015 03:38pm ET | Updated September 7, 2016
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Friends told me the day would come when my teenage son would act in ways so bizarre I wouldn't recognize him.

I knew they were probably right. I had seen it happen to other people's teenagers. And yet, when it happened, I wasn't prepared.

A few days ago, my wife Lesly told our 13-year-old son he couldn't go to school because he was sick.

My son angrily insisted that he could go to school if he wanted.

"If you don't take me to school," he shouted, "I'll walk."

What had become of the boy who didn't want to go to school when he was healthy?

Elizabeth Kolbert wrote an article in the August 28 issue of The New Yorker that a number of recent books examine why teenagers are so different from the recent of us.

"At moments of extreme exasperation, parents may think that there's something wrong with their teenagers' brains," Kolbert says. "There is."

Why is it that teenagers act so impulsively and irrationally? Why do they put themselves and others at risk? Why do they have to be told to pick up their dirty dishes after every meal?

The article quotes neurologist Frances Jensen, author of the book, The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to the Raising Adolescents and Young Adults, who says that adults think like adults because they have the frontal and prefrontal parts of the brain working in relative synchronization.

"Teens," she said, "are not quite firing on all cylinders when it comes to the frontal lobes."

We, as adults, have to be our teenagers' frontal lobes, Jensen says.

It's one thing that we have to pick up after them, remind them to do their chores, tell them to put away their iPods when they have homework, and buy them shoes every six weeks; now we have to be their frontal lobes, too.

My frontal lobes have had better days. Having a teenager is like having a bowling alley installed in your brain.

I probably wouldn't have given a second thought to my son's frontal lobes or The New Yorker article if my son didn't awake early that morning with a sore throat.

Until that day, he was a perfectly healthy teenager.He didn't like going to school.

When he woke up sick, we told him to go back to bed and see how he felt after some more sleep. When he woke up an hour or so later, he said he felt better and wanted to go to school.

Lesly could tell he still wasn't feeling well.

"You need to stay home," she said.

"But I want to go to school," he protested.

As a parent, you're conditioned to hear your child say irrational things. Until that moment, he had never said -- or probably thought -- "I want to go to school."

"I'm going to keep you home and you'll feel better tomorrow," Lesly said.

"If you're not going to take me to school," he sharply responded. "I'll walk!"

My wife was telling my son he couldn't go to school. My son was insisting that he go to school.

What had become of my son?

When asked why it was so important to go to school, he said he would have to make up the homework he missed. He would, therefore, have twice the homework the following night.

This meant that we would spend twice as much time telling him to do his homework.

Using our frontal lobes, we still kept him home that day.

Maybe that was his plan all along.