three teen girls with sparklers taking a selfie on the side of a hill


Teens Are Thrill-Seekers And My 14-Year-Old Is No Exception

Sep 8, 2021

My heart is in my throat.

It’s a feeling I’ve been experiencing a lot lately, but I’m far from used to it. You see, I’m raising a 14-year old girl in Toronto during a pandemic — and I’m white-knuckling my way through it.

Some say 14 is a dangerous age.

I had an inkling that this was a scary age after some kids in my daughter’s larger orbit went through some growing pains between middle and high school. They were all still in Grade 8 and barely into their teen years at the start of the pandemic. And then poof! Their lives went sideways, followed by a year and a half of social distancing thanks to COVID-19. And while life as they knew it abruptly halted, it didn’t stop them from wanting to be teenagers.

Laura found herself sounding like the kind of parent she vowed never to be when her teen changed up her look — the kind that occasionally makes pointed comments their child’s style.

Teens and Risky Behaviour

I wanted to confirm my suspicions that this was indeed a perilous age. There is some research to support that teens are more prone to indulge in dangerous behaviour. According to one study, they are more likely to indulge in binge drinking, experiment with drugs and engage in unsafe sex. It's like, at this age, their brains are wired to take risks.

"She has been living her summer break as if someone just let her out of a cage — because in some ways, that’s how it feels."

Teenagers are more likely to engage in thrill-seeking behaviours. And apparently, they live for the adrenaline rush of getting away with dangerous behaviour. The study “of 86 boys and men aged nine to 35 who played computer gambling games found teenagers most enjoyed the thrill of a risky situation — with 14-year-olds the biggest culprits.”

My daughter turned 14 during the lockdown, and if I’m honest, sometimes I was secretly glad I had her home with me. I thought maybe we could ride out some of this tumultuous stage from the comfort of our couch. The world has felt so frightening; I took some consolation knowing my daughter was home where I could keep an eye on her.  

A Double Vax Summer

Life has started to open up a little thanks to the vaccine, and my daughter has been released into the big world. It may be some time before the true impact of this pandemic on adolescents is truly known, but my casual observation is that many kids now fall into one of two camps: those who are happy just staying home and the ones bursting to get out.

My daughter falls into the second category. She has been living her summer break as if someone just let her out of a cage — because in some ways, that’s how it feels. As a new mom to parenting a teen and enduring a pandemic, I’ll admit I’ve been fumbling my way through the situation. I’m trying to let her spread her wings while ensuring that she’s safe and I don’t lose my mind from worry.

Once Laura's family was fully vaccinated, they decided they were going to live it up all summer — because they don't know fall and winter will bring.

Her new world has expanded to include night beach parties, park get-togethers, concerts on patios and DJ sets in public squares. Sometimes friends or family are taken aback at just how far afield I let her go these days. Questions arise like, should she be going there or should she be out that late?

"Questions arise like, should she be going there or should she be out that late?"

The truth is, I don’t know. Of course, I’d love it if she stayed closer to home, but I’m parenting the teen I have, not the one that would make my life easier. And because, like all teens, she has missed so much vital social time with her peers with an uncertain fall and winter ahead, I want her to give her a chance to make up for the lost time. Thankfully, she is a mature kid and has so far proven herself reliable and responsible.

Stepping In For Her Prefrontal Cortex

But, sometimes, we clash.

I know that my teen doesn’t yet have the cognitive development to evaluate risk at this age. The part of her brain that is firing on all cylinders now is the one that relies on emotions and impulses. The area in control of planning, consequences and problem solving hasn’t evolved yet. Sometimes I have to step in for her prefrontal cortex and squash her plans, which can be challenging. I try to explain this to her, but of course, part of being a teen means you already know everything.

No one said raising teens was easy, and parenting them in a pandemic is a wholly unexpected twist. So if you hear some teens out on a warm night making a little too much noise, please remember their brains are still under construction. And while this rough patch is filled with occasional potholes and detours, all we can do is navigate them as best we can — in the hope of a smoother ride down the road.

Article Author Laura Mullin
Laura Mullin

Read more from Laura here.

Laura Mullin is a published playwright and writer and the Co-Artistic Director of the award-winning company, Expect Theatre. She is also the Co-Host and Producer of PlayME, a podcast that transforms plays into audio dramas now on CBC. She has worked in theatre, film, and television and lives in Toronto with her writer/producer husband and pre-teen daughter. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @expectlaura.

Add New Comment

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.