I’ve been doing some research on the teenage brain lately. Frontline’s program on the teen brain is a particularly informative and entertaining look at why teenagers behave in ways that are maddening to the adults around them and confounding even to themselves. So what’s the scientific explanation for the mood swings, risk-taking, and increased need for sleep in our youth? In layman’s terms, teens act the way they do because the part of the brain that’s responsible for planning, judgment, and self-control (the prefrontal cortex) is still a work in progress and won’t reach full maturity till they turn twenty five(!). Their seemingly irrational behavior is not due to a lack of reason—teens are perfectly able to discern between wise and unwise choices in the abstract—but an inability to rein in their emotions and impulses.
In light of these findings, psychology professor Laurence Steinberg puts forward an argument for policy-makers, educators, and parents to ponder: The risky behavior of teens is best ameliorated not by increasing the reach informational programs such as D.A.R.E., driver’s ed, or abstinence-only (rather than comprehensive) sex ed, but rather through “tougher laws and parental control.”
Carrie McGourty’s article on ABC news is short enough for me to bring into a workshop, so I’m thinking of incorporating it into my Coming of Age program. I think it’s important for young people to understand why they act and feel the way they do, and to come up with ways they think such behavior can be managed. I’m especially curious to know what they think of Steinberg’s proposal.
What are other solutions or ways of addressing the problem of the teenage brain and risky behavior?