Sometimes 15-year-olds act out when they're testing boundaries, feeling unhappy, or seeking attention. Some common behaviors are drug and alcohol use and overuse, overt and inappropriate sexual behavior, gossiping relentlessly, lying, stealing, cheating, and/or being passive aggressive and manipulative.
These behaviors are warning lights, flashing on and off to passersby about a difficult adjustment, a divorce, a sexual identity crisis, or just plain old anger, fatigue and misery.
But how old is too old to act out?
In my late thirties, when I was post-divorce and the cruel antics which preceded it, I realized that now is too old. Now is definitely too old.
I realized that sneaking out into the driveway after putting my children to bed to smoke and drink may not have looked the same as a 15-year-old swinging from the rafters of her best friend's house while her parents were out of town, but it had the same feel to it. I was alone, harming no one but myself, and still, I thought, I am too old to deal with things in this way.
Looking around at co-workers and colleagues past, I marvel at the accessibility and sanctioning of indulgent acting out which is cleverly disguised as "having fun." Drinking to excess, spending money one doesn't really have and sleeping with, or sexually acting out with people one doesn't even like have become commonplace not only for teens on the downside of figuring things out, but also for men and women in their twenties, thirties, forties and well, well, beyond. The thirst with which people in their middle and late adulthood chase the bottle, kiss the strangers and now, alarmingly, post on their Facebook profiles is increasingly distasteful and weird.
I have a hunch the chronic adolescent hoopla is a direct result of the barrage of reality television addiction and production, a culture whose mascot should be Peter Pan, the boy who happily proclaims he'll "never grow up."
Americans typically loathe any psychological development past late adolescence, using the excuse that hippies and free thinking people get high and Republicans and conservative people dress in suits and are "square."