‘Forbidden fruit’ is powerfully alluring, especially for teenagers. Researchers have discovered that when children and adolescents are ‘forbidden’ from drugs, media consumption, and even certain peer relationships, they will resist those limits and assert their independence. If you tell a teen not to do something you almost ensure that as soon as your back is turned, they’ll be experimenting, investigating, poking, prodding, inhaling, swallowing, or otherwise trying to experience whatever was just deemed contraband.
The super-peer of the media is addictive, influencing an entire generation of teenagers into accepting whatever norms those behind the messages seek to perpetuate.This is partly due to teenagers’ basic desire for autonomy.
“You can’t tell me what to do.”Another reason is that humans’ pre-frontal cortex (which is the part of our brain responsible for executive function and forward planning) does not fully develop until our early twenties. Lacking the neurologically advanced development that adults possess, our teens seem all too enthusiastic to chase after whatever we suggest would be best given a wide berth. This is especially the case when they sense their autonomy is being threatened. The more dictatorial our approach, the more enticing the forbidden fruit.
To add complexity to a challenging situation, as teens develop, their willingness to accept parental influence diminishes at the same rate as their increased acceptance of peer influence. Mum and Dad become restrictive while peers offer limitless opportunities for exploration and discovery.
Of all the peers that have an impact on our children’s decisions, there is one that is ubiquitous, pervasive, and all-too-often insidious. The media acts as a super-peer and influences our children with more effect than the most persuasive of teenagers’ normal peers. The super-peer is subtle. The super-peer rarely explicitly demands that teens conform to a given ideal. Rather, it presents models of the ‘good life’ and teens follow the direction laid out for them without question. While the influence of the super-peer can be positive, it can also be frighteningly negative.