Why do teenagers act so peculiar at times? Is there something wrong with my child? What on Earth were you thinking? What did you think was going to happen? Why would you do such a thing?
These are very common questions and responses to the behavior of most young people under the age of 25. Now we have a better answer to these questions.
One of the best revelations I learned in researching youth development stages is on the maturation process of the brain. Specifically, the prefrontal cortex, which is the last region of the brain to reach full development.
This section is the frontal lobes is just behind the forehead and is often referred to as the executive function or the “CEO of the brain.” The primary functions of this region are cognitive analysis, abstract thought, focusing attention, problem-solving, consequences of behavior, considering the future assurances, controlling impulsive behavior and emotional management.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this region does not reach full maturation until age 25.
Does this not completely explain what most parents and youth workers already knew but couldn’t validate? Iconic comedian Bill Cosby puts it in simpler terms, calling his kids “brain damaged.” A more layman’s response is: The bread is not baked. The elevator has not reaching the top floor. They are a few cards shy of a full deck. The lights are on but no one is home.
Most adolescents in this stage lack the capacity to control impulsive behavior and make sound judgments. This scientific support of adolescent brain development should make us question whether youth in this age group should ever be tried in courts as an adult, given a license to drive, allowed certain levels of responsibility or even vote. The logical argument would be to question their judgment, to determine their level of cognitive maturity.
Youth in this age group tend to take more hazardous risks, knowing there are inherent dangers or consequences for their behaviors. The mortality rates for 15- to 24-year-olds are triple the mortality rates of grade-school children and double the amount of adults ages 25 to 35. Injury and violence is the leading cause of death in adolescent’s age 10 to 24 years old.
This knowledge of youth brain development will help youth workers and parents understand why adolescents take ill-advised risks and that risk-taking behavior is a normal part of their development. It should help us realize the need for more monitoring, modeling and mentoring of healthy lifestyles and behaviors for youth. This knowledge can also assist in developing effective interventions that could reduce the harmful risk factors.
Armed with this relatively new information, how critical is the need for mentoring and parenting into early adulthood? That old notion of a person being grown just because they have turned 18 is seriously flawed.
This proves that today’s youth need guidance clearly into their mid-20s. Actually, is it really new information? I seem to recall a Scripture saying, “It does not belong to man walking to direct his own step.”
I’m sure that thought included the youngster as well.
Deon Price is a youth life skills coach and freelance writer. He can be reached at [email protected] or follow him at www.twitter.com/youthgeneration.