Teenagers: so misunderstood

May 4, 2017 2:20 PM

Teenagers make bad decisions. They smoke, drink, are promiscuous. They cut class to hang out with their friends.

It’s a phenomenon that’s been around since the days of Romeo and Juliet, but today science knows far more than it did in Shakespeare’s time.

Striking changes taking place within the prefrontal cortex of the adolescent brain lead to dramatic changes in behavior, interests, and the actual quantity of grey matter. Decisions and actions teens take can have lasting effects on their brains, both positive and negative.

Perhaps there are better ways to guide young people through these tumultuous times.

When a group of 50-60 youths jumped the turnstiles, overtook a Coliseum Station BART train car, robbed seven people and assaulted two others on April 22, it is hard not to see the clear signs of the adolescent brain at work, and the devastating results to come.

Teenagers who commit crimes deserve to grow and prosper as much as others

Based on the number of robbers compared to the crimes committed, it could be assumed that only a few in the group were actively participating.

What were the others doing? Were they just along for the ride? Maybe they were confused, or not fully committed.

Maybe they were just trying to act cool.

The prefrontal cortex of the brain controls many high level cognitive functions, such as decision-making, self-awareness, social interaction, and inhibition of inappropriate behavior and risk-taking.

Scientists have found that this region is “pruned,” or cut back during adolescence, while other connections become strengthened or “hardwired.”

Some hypothesize that a young person’s activities at this time of life will determine which brain cells and connections flourish and which ones perish, forever.

With this understanding of the teenage brain, who will be there to help these teens make more positive connections and find healthier activities beyond the sad collection of a few iPhones?

They deserve to grow and prosper as much as another child. Their most recent actions should not be allowed to define them—not yet, anyway.

 


Hoku Gearheard-Gendre is a staff writer at the Laney Tower. E-mail her at hokugearheard@gmail.com

 

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