Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The mouth of 12-year-olds

I had the wonderful experience this year of watching, after nearly two years away in a sort of time-lapse photography, my grandaughter change from an 11-year-old kid into a 13-year-old. Wow! Isn't it cool?

Humans are just so neat! They do this transition all the time, and I'm beginning to understand how middle-school teachers can keep doing it!

Some years ago, I read about an important study done by psychologists regarding how kids grow up. (I don't remember the details, which I'm sure are important, but here's the basic idea:)

The pyschologists would tell kids ranging in age from 8 to 13 this story: A man has a wife who is dying unless she can get expensive medicine that the man cannot afford. He tries to get a job to get the money, but cannot, he begs on the street, applies to charities, does all he can, but he can't get the money. So one night he breaks into a pharmacy and steals the medicine needed to keep his wife alive.

Asked whether the man did the right thing, almost every kid aged 8-11 (randomly chosen from all ethnnic groups) said: No. Stealing is wrong! But kids who were older, 12, or 13, responded: Wait a minute, is stealing worse that letting a person die? There is more here to talk about!

(Is it any wonder that the Jewish rite of bar mitzvah, and Christian confirmation, and the practices of so many other religions, concentrate on young people of this age?)

Often, as I watch today's politicians, I think of those 12-year-olds, spreading their arms, wondering how all those grownups they have depended upon for guidance all their lives, could be so dumb.

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