Driving a car without a license. Have unprotected sex. Try drugs. Putting yourself in dangerous situations without thinking about the consequences. Why do teens take so many risks?
A developing brain
Wonder what you did wrong to make your teen do so much nonsense? Don't worry: his behavior (which you may consider dubious) is more due to an immaturity of the brain than to a lack of education.
“Adolescents make more impulsive choices than adults because their brains are still developing,” says Cecilia Flores, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at McGill University and researcher at the Douglas Institute. His team's research shows that the brain of a adolescent is not as developed as an adult brain. “The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls impulsivity and decision-making, is still immature in adolescents,” argues the researcher.
Since their brains are still developing, some connections just don't happen. This explains,at least partly why they tend to take more risks.
Beyond the Brain
It would be too easy to explain teenage risk taking with brain development alone. The reality is more complex. Indeed, adolescence is a period of life when young people want to be accepted, want to belong to a group.
Thus, their social environment will play a role in their decision-making, which can have consequences for their brain development. “Some studies show that stress and drug use, for example, will impair wire connectivity in the developing adolescent brain,” says Flores.
Encouraging Positive Experiences
Rather than be discouraged by the fact that your teen's brain is only 80% developed, instead take advantage of it to stimulate him in a positive way. Indeed, the teenage brain, at this stage of development, has very great learning abilities. It can be negative… but also positive. "Studies show that teenagers involved in sport will be much less likely to take drugs and take certain risks," says Cecilia Flores.
The researcher mentions an article published in The Atlantic about the Icelandic model. This European country, by introducing sport into the lifestyle of teenagers, has seen drastic changes in their behavior. “The percentage of young people aged 15-16 who found themselves in a state of intoxication the monththe latter fell from 42% in 1998 to 5% in 2016. The percentage of those who used cannabis fell from 17% to 7%. And the percentage of those who smoke cigarettes daily has dropped from 23% to just 3%. »
As a teenager, parents tend to believe that their child has all the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions on their own. Now you know that is not the case. Hence the importance of still being very present in the life of your child. To make him drop his tablet to go play badminton with him. To take it off the TV to go and visit the museum.
“For teens to take less risk, parents need to work hard and be very present in their children's lives. Just because they're older doesn't mean they don't need us anymore. On the contrary,” says Ms. Flores.
Source: Article by Emma Young, published in The Atlantic, 2017, How Iceland Got Teens to Say No to Drugs
To go further
The Teenage Brain, by Frances E Jensen, HarperCollins, 2015