By: Karen Feldscher, BodiMojo project manager and mom with 30 years of writing and editing experience.
Ever do something stupid you regretted later? Take a risk and you weren’t sure why? There may be a reason why you reach for a bag of cheese curls instead of an apple when you want a snack. Why you skipped a class at school for the heck of it. Or why you drink a beer at a party even though you hadn’t planned on it.
It may be because you’re not thinking clearly. Literally.
Researchers say that the teenage brain is simply not fully developed. That’s why teens sometimes make snap decisions, that, in hindsight, seem like not the best decisions.
Here’s what the researchers say:
• Key areas of the adolescent brain — especially the prefrontal cortex, the part that controls higher order skills — is not fully mature until the early to mid-twenties.
• The prefrontal cortex governs things like planning, impulse control, and reasoning — such as how you behave when you’re angry or whether or not to eat a second piece of dessert.
• More 17-year-olds commit crimes than any other age group — and this risky behavior may have a lot to do with the fact that teens’ brains haven’t fully matured.
• When adults resist impulses, their prefrontal cortexes are highly active. But in teens’ brains, this doesn’t happen.
• When faced with risky vs. non-risky choices, kids often pick the riskier ones — even though they know they’re riskier: drug abuse, unsafe sex, group bullying. Peer pressure — or going with the crowd — also has influence on the brain’s reward centers to seek out stimulation.
What does all this mean? That, as a teen, it would be a good idea to push yourself to think about your choices carefully, even it doesn’t feel that important in the moment. Because the teen brain is still forming, exposure to certain things, like sugar, tobacco, drugs, will have a neurochemical effect, and could lead to addictions over time — or, unintentionally lead you to take risky behaviors that could do harm to yourself or others. For some people, a family history of depression or substance addiction or obesity is also something to consider, so you can be mindful of a number of factors that could be influential in certain circumstances.
So — before you drink that beer, or take that second piece of cake, or take a cigarette someone offers you — think about it. Will having the beer affect your driving? Will you regret the cake later, when you step on the scale? What if smoking one cigarette makes you want to smoke another one — and another?
Quick Quiz: How’s your judgment?
1. Have you recently stayed up so late that you were tired in school the next day?
2. Have you ever taken a ride from a friend whose driving made you nervous?
3. Have you ever lashed out at your parents or siblings — then regretted it later?
4. Have you ever wolfed down a fast-food meal, then felt sick afterwards and wish you hadn’t eaten it?
5. Do you tend to procrastinate on your homework, then realize you don’t have enough time to finish it?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, take a minute to play out the pros and cons of decisions before you make them.
Want more information? Check out these resources:
- Science Today: The Adolescent Brain
- The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy: The Adolescent Brain – PDF
This article has been reviewed by Tara Cousineau, Ph.D.
Last reviewed October 2014.