Sex, Drugs and Self-Control, It’s not just about rebellion. Neuroscience is revealing adolescents’ rich and nuanced relationship with risky behaviour by Kerri Smith
Risky behavior causes a large proportion of deaths among teenagers. Yet recent studies have found that risk appetite among adolescents is no higher than among adults. In this article, Nature’s news feature editor Kerri Smith looks at the latest research into teenage brain development, which explores the factors that determine risk behavior among adolescents and its impact on the brain – and how these findings can, and should, inform policies. This article will engage anyone who wants to get the adolescents in their care safely through their teenage years.
- Research has found that risk appetite among adolescents is no higher than among adults.
- Unlike previously thought, the brain does not develop unevenly during teenage years.
- Context and social factors impact on teenagers’ willingness to take risks.
- Research into brain development and risk behavior in adolescents has started to inform policy.
Sex, Drugs and Self-Control Book Summary
Research has found that risk appetite among adolescents is no higher than among adults.
Adolescents tend to take more risks than adults. Statistics show that death among teenagers between the ages of 15 to 19 is more often than not the result of risky behavior.
“Adolescence is a perilous period. The death rate among 15- to 19- year-olds worldwide is about 35% higher than that among 10- to 14-year-olds.”
In particular for males in the age range, the main causes of death are road injuries, violence and self-harm. However, these statistics do not necessarily mean that teenagers are more willing to take risks. Rather, research into brain development and risk behavior shows that very often it is the context that determines the risk appetite among teenagers.
Unlike previously thought, the brain does not develop unevenly during teenage years.
Initially, researchers believed that the brain develops unevenly during teenage years, which would then determine adolescent risk behavior. Yet later studies show that adolescents do not have a higher risk appetite than adults, and that neural systems developing at different speeds does not necessarily mean that the brain is unbalanced.
Context and social factors impact on teenagers’ willingness to take risks.
Several studies conducted over recent years have found that social factors influence risk-taking among teenagers.
“Science has often looked at risk-taking among adolescents as a monolithic problem for parents and the public to manage or endure.”
These social factors include things such as peer pressure or social stature. In experiments, teenagers were more willing to take risks when they thought their peers were watching. In contrast, they would be more risk-averse when they thought their mother was observing the experiment. These different influencing factors also activated different parts of the brain. Their mother’s presence would activate the area of the brain related to cognitive control, whereas peer presence resulted in greater activity in reward-sensitive brain regions.
Research into brain development and risk behavior in adolescents has started to inform policy.
In the US criminal justice system, authorities are starting to consider factors that might affect a teenager’s self-control. In Kentucky, a court decided to raise the age at which the death penalty could be imposed to 21. A number of schools have also changed their start time to later in the morning as studies showed that not enough sleep results in teenagers taking more risks.
“The neural underpinnings of risky behaviour can inform guidelines and laws for teens who drive, for example, or the punishments they receive for violent crimes.”
There is a recognition that not exposing teenagers to risk is much more effective than telling them about the dangers of risk-taking.
About the Author
Kerri Smith is a feature editor for Nature, covering life sciences. Her background is in human sciences and neuroscience.
Thanks for reading this book Sex, Drugs and Self-Control by Kerri Smith, checkout out book summaries categories for more book summary.