Healthy, Wealthy, And Simpleminded
Published: September 12th, 2013
By: Shawn Magrath

Healthy, wealthy, and simpleminded

The rules of Rock Tag were simple enough. If you get hit by a rock, you're out. The last one standing (often times, literally) is the winner. Oh yeah, and no face shots ... we tried to keep it civilized.

In retrospect, I suppose the invention of Rock Tag – and it's sister sport, Extreme Rock Tag – wasn't exactly my “bright and shining star” moment as a child. But when you consider the alternative was a game in development I called Cat-apult (which necessitated use of an old teeter-totter, a close friend, and the neighbor's rightfully skittish cat), it wasn't so bad. At least Rock Tag was a game of wit – idiots vs. idiots – and not a game of idiots vs. the physical and mathematical laws of feline trajectory.

What's the saying? Boys will be boys?

Admittedly, my childhood “games” transcended impish, the effect of poor decision making and an inability to consider the consequences of my actions. Or in a more blunt sense, stupid. They were stupid. But I wasn't alone in my clouded sense of rational thinking, at least not according to new findings from researchers at the University College London.

In a qualitative study that asked 59 young people, ages 9-26, to guess the odds of something bad happening to them (usually as the result of doing something one might describe as lacking of intelligence or common sense... or in one word, stupid), researchers concluded what we all know. Kids are bound to make bad decisions. Even if they know the potentially dangerous consequences, they don't hesitate in taking risks. Hence my brainchild of Extreme Rock Tag ... it seemed like a good idea at the time.

So why the insistence of young people to make such poor decisions? In a story written by NPR journalist Nancy Shute, researchers say it comes down to brain development. Problem-solving, they say, is a collaborative process between several different areas of the brain, including the cortex where negative information is processed. Unfortunately, the cortex takes longest to mature, often lasting into someone's early 20s.

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In other words, it's a miracle I've lived this long.

Young people aren't completely processing the cause and effect of their actions. Despite countless warnings from parents, they aren't alluding to the possibility they might break a leg if they fall out of a tree, get robbed if they leave their door unlocked, or wreck the car while racing a train to the next railroad crossing (and some of us know the feeling of victory when we actually beat it). Researchers argue that such considerations are sometimes so left field, they aren't even in the same ballpark as rational thought.

Obviously, this is bad news for the millions of overly protective parents out there, but it's good news for the likes of fellow reporter Kevin Doonan, who just the other day said the best way for a child to learn the perils of sticking their finger in an electrical outlet is to let them do it once. Touché, Kevin.

So it's settled. Young people have an excuse to make bad decisions. But where does that leave some of the older folks I know? The so called “responsible grown-ups” who make equally dumb decisions with little or no regard for the consequence? I would hate to think one's brain is still developing at the same time they hit their mid-life crisis.

I guess what it comes down to is the need to learn from our own stupid actions, irrespective of age. Einstein's often credited as saying, “There are only two things that are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.”

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