A horrible epidemic is sweeping the nation's adolescent boys.

But before I get into that, let me tell you how boys between the ages of 12 and, let's say, 24 have changed over the last few decades.  First, the fact that I use the word boys to describe men over the age of 18 should cue you in that something might be wrong. We are only now recognizing how the catastrophic financial downturn between 2007 and 2008 has extended the retiring age of boomers.  In the same way, a shortfall of person to person communication in exchange for media-based interaction, an increase of male-perpetrated violent behaviors, mixed with the overall attitude of limitlessness (all early symptoms of Bieberitis) have delayed maturation and extended adolescence.  

Chances are that you or a parent you know have an adult child at home...and its also possible that child is a boy/man.

Now when I use the phrase boy/man, I don't intend to point toward rusty old gender stereotypes like aggressiveness, bootstrap-pulling, toughing-it-out, and no crying in baseball.  Rather, I use boy and man to refer to the effects of Bieberitis on the male gender (Bieberitis affects girls too, but in a totally different more nauseating way). 

If you were looking for Bieberitis, you could start by examining the rates of school-based violence perpetrated by adolescent boys. You would notice a dramatic increase of violence perpetrated against girls, especially.  You would also discover young men who believe they can fly.  And I'm not talking about the cute kind, the one where a young Superman with a towel around his neck gets a scraped knee and a memorable lesson in gravity by jumping off a roof.  I'm talking about boys who believe they have no behavioral limits.

Bieberitis is the attempt to possess the world, reject healthy limitations, and enforce power over people.

Consider patient zero.  Justin I-Can-Do-Anything-I-Please Bieber.  Last week, Mr. Bieber allegedly found himself in trouble for egging his neighbor's house, causing damage to the tune of $20,000.  I'm assuming he threw fabrege eggs.  Just yesterday, news broke that Mr. Bieber was allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol while drag racing on Miami Beach.  These are two of a string of incidents that have directed unfavorable attention toward Mr. Bieber, who I believe is a perfect archetype of the kind of person that many white adolsecent males America emulate.  Publicly, they shun his overactive ego, but secretly, they spend hours in front of a mirror in an attempt to replicate his Vanilla Ice hair.

What does Bieberitis look like?

Consider the following possible symptoms:

  • The tendency to be completely disrespectful, especially toward women. 
  • Decreased interest in most things productive, with exception only to athletics and perhaps dancing, in which case you notice:
  • A conflated ego
  • A propensity for manipulation
  • Wearing sunglasses...always
  • Overuse of words you don't understand or care to hear, like "Bruh," "Chill," "Yo," and "!$#@%"

These are but a few of the possible signs and symptoms.

Effects like these can leave parents shaking their heads, wondering where the respect has gone in the world.  In severe cases, parents can begin to believe that the America's future is doomed to nothing but snapbacks (those are "hats worn backward" for those of you young at heart), bad attitudes, and DUIs.  But do not lose heart.  

Bieberitis may seem catastrophic, but just like any heartthrob-inducing virus, it has its weaknesses.

The characterizing feature of Bieberitis is a world without limits.  I'm not talking about life limitations, the ones that you were meant to overcome. I am referring to the limits on appropriate, safe, and equitable behavior.  The limits on physical aggresiveness, sexual possessiveness, general back-talkery, and more recently, the tendency to put all of these symptoms on display through social media.  

To effectively cure Bieberitis, parents must remind young men of their limits.  If they don't, what happens is that young men expect the world at their fingertips and lack the resilience to handle the disappointing reality. Bieberitis thrives in a culture where boys lack the growth that comes from responding to real-world limits.

"No, you can't stay out all night smoking pot with your friends."

If your adolescent is suffering from Bieberitis, then he might believe that he can do whatever he wants and it is the world's fault if they don't like it.  Except as a parent, you know that's not true.  Your adolescent has limits.  He just does not see them.  If he has a cell phone, a car, nice clothes, cool hats, and a room in which to sleep, then he has limits.  He only begins to see them when you limit his freedom within those privileges. The moment those privileges are threatened as a consequence of Bieberitis, your suffering adolescent becomes more and more aware of the limits that already exist. 

As a parent, your job is not to enforce limits, but to reveal them.

Do not punish.  Punishment is ineffective.  It is advil for a cold.  Perhaps a few symptoms disappear, but you'll have to take it every day.  Rather, set natural consequences for behavior.  Make them short and to the point.  Don't set consequences when you are angry.  Otherwise, your Bieberitis-infected teen will find himself grounded for three months and will have no idea why.  The lesson will be lost.  

This can be a tough task. You may need support. That's okay. No parent is perfect.  No parent can do it all.  But by taking strides toward healthy limits, you can limit yours' and your family's exposure to Bieberitis.

Dr. Mathis Kennington