Make Good Choices

20 November 2023


Adolescence is a period of life often characterized by behaviours that might appear irrational, such as seemingly excessive risk taking. However, these behaviours might be interpreted as adaptive and rational if one considers that a key developmental goal of this period of life is to mature into an independent adult in the context of a social world that is unstable and changing.

It is proposed that for adolescents, the social risk of being rejected by peers outweighs other potentially negative outcomes of decisions, such as threats to one’s health or the prospect of getting caught.
The findings from cognitive neuroscience and developmental psychology studies fit with recent public health evidence that the opinions of peers are particularly important to adolescents. While all people can succumb to social pressures, adolescents are more likely to do so.

Good Morning 
My cousin was clever. He went to LSE then took further degrees including a PhD. All of this took him until he was in his thirties…there were gaps between his studies, and he never had a steady job. He was certainly talented though. He was incredibly well-read, particularly about philosophy, a skilful artist, a brilliant pianist and guitarist.

Everyone liked my cousin - let’s call him Johnny. He was great company but for whatever reason, he lacked worldly ambition…to have a career or a family, a home of his own, to travel…to put his talents to use. He was, however, a kind and devoted carer to his mother with whom he lived – my aunt. He shopped, cleaned, did the washing and cooked for her…and apart from seeing a few friends, latterly her care took up most of Johnny’s life.

Nearly three years ago when Johnny was in his mid-fifties, he was ill one evening, my aunt went to bed and the next morning, when the district nurse came to visit her, she discovered that Johnny had died. The Police were called and by the end of the afternoon, my aunt had been moved to a care home where, unable to live independently, she remained for a year until she too passed away.

Although we had not seen each other very often and so I didn’t feel I knew him very well, I arranged Johnny’s funeral and in so doing, I got to know a couple of his friends. Among them was someone – let’s call her Jane - and it transpired that three decades or so ago, she and Johnny had been boyfriend and girlfriend. That had ended and she has been happily married to someone else for many years but right up until they had died, Johnny and she spoke regularly.

In one of her emails to me, Jane said: Although I’ve said lots of negative things to you about Johnny he also had so many great qualities. I couldn’t say it at his funeral because it wouldn’t have been appropriate but he was not a bad person, I think he just couldn’t get himself together when it counted, and he was the epitome of a missed opportunity. She went on… the story of Johnny and Jane was not one of life’s great romances. Actually, I think it was one of life’s great tragedies. He’d really hurt me, after wearing me down for months with his excuses and drug-taking. He promised me everything would be different if I would only give him another chance….but I knew he just wouldn’t change.

And sadly, I suspect that Jane was right. Perhaps because of the person he was, or because of chemical dependency, or both, Johnny didn’t change. From what I can tell, Johnny spent most of his life (and whatever money he had) as a drug user. He did do other things as I’ve said, but there is no doubt in my mind that drugs were central to him; they held him back and meant that he didn’t come close to fulfilling the massive potential he had. No job, no family of his own, no home of his own, poor health, his early death and a confused, elderly mother who grieved in a care home for her only child…almost certainly are all linked to a lifetime of drug taking.

The passage that Charissa read a few moments ago, comes from the abstract of a paper written by Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore – who I have mentioned before as the author of one of my favourite books about the teenage brain. If you are interested in medicine, or psychology or neuroscience then do read it…I’ve lent it to a number of you already or you can borrow it from the library…and that book summarises how Sarah Jayne Blakemore has used neuroscience to explain some aspects of adolescent behaviour…and one of those aspects is reaction to peer pressure; adolescents can be prone to wanting to fit in, to being like others to following the crowd. While people of all ages can succumb to social pressures, teenagers, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore says, are more likely to do so.

When he was a teenager, my cousin tried smoking – with his friends; he then tried smoking cannabis and then he tried other drugs…all with his friends. Did he succumb to social pressure…possibly? When he tried his first cigarette (today it probably would have been a vape) he will have thought he was in control of what he was doing, he will have had similar plans and ambitions to us - but one thing led to another and decades later, judging by the sordid paraphernalia that I found in his untidy bedroom, he definitely wasn’t in control of his addiction. It controlled him, his health, what he did with his money, his life and it almost certainly impacted his death.

Those of us who are no longer teenagers, can just about remember how important it was to fit in with others…but ultimately, we ourselves have to make the right choices for us and be true to our own values. However strong the temptation to do otherwise, we have to take responsibility and remember that decisions have consequences. In the last email that Jane sent to me she said:I hope you’ll tell the young people you teach about Johnny, the mistakes he made and how different his life could have been if it hadn’t been for his drug use. I can’t bear to think about how Johnny’s life might have turned out if he’d made a few different decisions.

So that’s why I’m sharing some of Johnny’s story – to encourage everyone to make wise decisions for themselves, regardless of what anyone else might do…resist the temptation to follow the crowd. Like Johnny, you have huge potential to do great things in the world. You have parents who want the very best for you and who will support you as you set about fulfilling your dreams – you could do anything you want…so be true to yourselves, fit in with the right group and make good choices

Bromsgrove School is a co-educational, independent school.

General Enquiries email:

Admissions enquiries email:


Bromsgrove School, Worcester Road,
Bromsgrove, Worcestershire B61 7DU.


01527 579679

Registered in England: Company No. 4808121, Registered Charity No. 1098740 Website design & development by Nexus Creative