By Michael N. Tennison and Amanda C. Pustilnik | Indiana Health Law Review
On September 17, 2014, a teen boy riding in the front seat of an SUV on the highway at night had a brilliant idea: If he set the driver’s armpit hair on fire, it might impress the girls in the back. It did not turn out quite the way he planned. “Teen Setting Underarm Hair On Fire Causes Rollover Crash,” reported news outlets the next day. The SUV ran into a ditch, flipped over, and threw three of the five occupants—all teenagers, none of whom were wearing seat belts—out onto the highway. Miraculously, no one was killed.
This story is humorous and serious all at once. Humorous, because it embodies a head-shaking truth long acknowledged in our and other cultures about the crazy things kids do. Serious, because the thoughtless yet typical action of one boy could have seriously hurt or killed these four children and possibly other people on the highway that night. And it has a serious message: Teens are different from adults, on average, particularly in ways that relate to the overvaluation of present rewards and sensations, the undervaluation of negative risk, the tremendous salience of their desire for peer approval, and their tendency to act in even more risky and thoughtless ways when they are together in groups.