Trends in adolescent brain development: Implications for youth practice and policy
This symposium featured the speakers Abigail A. Baird and Larry Steinberg.
Adults often forget what it is like to be a teen. Learning about how the adolescent brain develops can help us understand and work with them.
Adolescent brains are already mature intellectually, but the part of the brain that learns from experience (avoiding foods that make you sick, not touching a hot stove) develops last. Also, impulse control is low just as emotions are running at their highest. This leads to risk-taking behavior, so adults have to help them to think before they act.
Risk-taking is not all bad -- teen take risks when they reach out to a peer group. Adults feel “dumped” by teens, but just because they are focussing right now on how to interact with their peers, it doesn’t mean that what adults told them doesn’t get through. Peer pressure can be positive-- a teen might take an AP class or join Mathletes to be with their friends. Adults should be kept out of some teen stuff -- they need it to grow.
On the other hand, teens will sometimes change their stated opinion in a group situation to match that of a friend or someone who appears dominant in the group (which happens with adults too).
Teens see the benefits as higher than costs of risky behavior. They are more attentive to rewards than punishments. It is the same in all countries, cultures, and economic levels.
Adults need to keep talking to teens and helping them, while giving them time alone with peers as a necessary process of growing up. Be proactive about positive peer pressure.
A recording of the symposium is available here.