We just got back from a ten day holiday in Southern California, a late spring break that tied into the Easter vacation and gave me an excuse to take the kids out to meet up with my sister (who flew down from Alaska) and visit Papa, always a good thing. We’re experienced SoCal travelers so I already had my contacts lined up to arrange adventures at Disneyland, Seaworld San Diego and the San Diego Zoo, along with a long weekend at the Kona Kai resort and a really great 2014 Ford Escape loaner.
In this piece I just want to explore the decision making process of the American teen as demonstrated by my own 14yo son G-.
For a few days before we left Colorado he’d been complaining of a stomach ache and even missed a day of school that last pre-holiday week because he felt so poorly. It would have been extraordinarily difficult to delay our departure (too many wheels in motion) but the morning we were heading to the airport I really did wonder if he was going to make it or not. I started to formulate a “plan b” where he’d spend that night with his grandma and fly out to join us a day or two later. But he rallied enough to do well on the plane flight. It’s the first time I’ve felt the need to point out the air sickness bag to one of my children before a flight. Ugh.
Once we arrived, however, it was clear he was still not feeling very well, so we laid low in our Dana Point condo, I found some meds and made some very mild foods suitable for a queasy stomach. Seemed like a mild case of food poisoning (a problem far, far more common than you probably realize) which I’ve dealt with before, and after a day or two he was feeling better.
My Anaheim contacts came through and we were heading to Disneyland. For that day he definitely rallied — I mean, what kid doesn’t love Disneyland?? — and we had a great time, almost 13-hours at the parks, though there were moments I could tell he wasn’t feeling 100%.
It was at Disneyland that his teen boy impulse control proved his downfall.
He made bad eating decision after bad eating decision. For lunch? A plate of garlic fries. No burger, no soup, just fries, even as I suggested a variety of milder and healthier options on the menu. When his little sister got some cotton candy, he had a significant portion of that too (to her consternation, but that’s another story!) And on and on, eating foods as if he had an iron stomach when he clearly was still a bit under the weather.
The next morning, no surprise, his stomach ache was back, and really didn’t leave until we finally returned home six days later. Now he’s feeling fine, fortunately, as I was starting to wonder if it was time to visit the doc, but his stomach ache and resultant behavior did much to adversely affect our entire holiday, including having to cancel both an arranged Pirates dinner in Anaheim and our visit to the San Diego Zoo.
What I marvel at is how his choices were based on the hedonistic pursuit of momentary pleasure — instant gratification — even knowing that the longer term effect would be unpleasant. He’s always had food allergies and for years when he was younger we minimized gluten and dairy to try and help. Now he’s old enough at 14 to make his own food choices and experience the consequences, but still…
Then again, how many adults do you see doing the same thing every Saturday night? Okay short-term decisions but terrible long-term ones. Sunday morning hangover, I’m looking at you.
Since I know someone’s going to tell me that I should have said “no” to his food choices or ordered for him while we were out, let me state here that I believe that as a teen the proverbial ship’s already left the dock and my role as parent is to guide, to remind and suggest, not to make and enforce a vast number of rules. In fact, I think for food, it’s easier to let logical consequences do the work: “if you eat this, you’ll feel like that, but you can make that decision if you want.”
Still, a real drag to watch him alternate between being so sick that a bowl of miso soup was all he could manage and seeing him pick the junkiest of foods, the least healthy, the sweet candies, etc. At least this trip we avoided In-n-Out, though, so there’s that.
But what is it with us humans, and especially teens, that causes us to make such a predictable sequence of poor decisions, time after time?