There is no phase of life in which we are more risk-averse than during adolescence. Developmental psychologist Barbara Brahms explains why children who enter this period love dangerous situations so much.
Broken fifth smartphone, torn jeans, damaged shoes and behavioral complaints from educators – what’s going on? You know your child is thrifty and calm, and suddenly you notice drastic changes in all aspects of behavior.
Why does he act in defiance and, with a well-developed intellect, behave irresponsibly? These questions have affected adults since ancient times, as evidenced by the famous words of the philosopher Socrates:
Today’s youth are accustomed to luxury, they are distinguished by bad manners, despises authority, does not respect elders, children argue with adults, greedily swallow food, harass teachers. (Socrates, 5th century BC)
So, we can say that nothing has changed under the sun. But in recent years, we have gained a lot of new knowledge about what exactly is behind this behavior.
Experts believe that young people are ready for conscious life only at the age of twenty-two, and until that moment, they are subject to a constant emotional storm, as radical updates are constantly taking place in their brains.
Knowledge of this is possible, first of all, by the invention of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which allows you to study the structure of the brain in detail, showing exactly when and which parts of the brain are active.
Barbara Brahms – doctor who discovered new knowledge about the brain of adolescents
Barbara Brahms received her PhD in 2015, and today, she studies the responses of the teenage brain at Harvard to various risky situations. In addition, Brahms has published her own book, Risky Brain, with advice for parents who regularly wonder who is crazy, themselves or their children.
The good news is that in most cases, behavioral changes trace back to a neurobiological developmental leap.
Why teens are risk-averse – Top 5 reasons
1. The teen brain is emotional. Reason: after puberty, a serious reconstruction of the brain begins in a deeper “emotional” part. First, the necessary neurons are added, then the gray matter is renewed and remains most active for several years, which increases the excitement of the child.
All this happens under the influence of a wave of sex hormones, washing the entire body.
Adolescents become very sensitive to emotions such as fear of judgment, but especially to rewards. In her PhD research, Barbara Brahms found that activity in the “reward area” peaked around the age of seventeen.
The brain screams louder than ever when there is something to enjoy. No wonder some teenagers become obsessed with drugs or rock and roll.
2. Reason cannot provide sufficient counterbalance. It’s not that teenagers lack the habit of reasoning and then doing.
Although the development of gray matter in the upper, cognitive parts of the brain begins later than in the emotional areas, most young people soon have enough strength to adequately assess the situation.
In a calm environment, teenagers can act very intelligently. But add a little bit of feeling—the stress of an exam, the chance of winning a game, critical comment from peers—and that huge emotional brain immediately throws cognitive areas out of balance.
3. The teenage brain is uneven. The development of white matter is much more gradual than the development of gray matter, as well as neurons. And it is this white matter that provides communication between neurons, for example, between the emotional area and the prefrontal cortex, where reasonable conclusions are born. Thus, the less developed the white matter, the more impulsive the behavior.
4. Teenagers are the most creative. Brahms writes that children at this age are most creative, because there are not enough ways of thinking in the mind. Fear of the new is not for them, hence the situation with broken smartphones and torn clothes. There is only one advice here – to direct creativity in the right direction.
5. There is every reason to be constantly stressed. The adult world demands a lot from young people. The choice of study and profession, independent living outside the walls of your home and establishing relationships require a good dose of courage. However, such difficulties force the brain to mature faster and choose more accurate solutions.
Therefore, the independence of a teenager must be encouraged. On the other hand, stressful situations that the child has not yet encountered come to the fore again, which again entails mood swings and a desire to find a risky way to distract from the problem. The advice of a specialist in this case is, if possible, to provide support.
Differences between boys and girls
Since boys and girls do not have the same cognitive potential, sex hormones affect them differently. For example, male sex hormones encourage boys to exercise a lot: you need to build muscle!
This explains why boys, more than girls, find it difficult to sit in class and tend to take more risks. But as a result, they develop faster the part of the brain that plays a role in skills like spatial awareness.
You can see this in their complex motor skills while jumping with their skateboards. But the ability to plan and control oneself develops later.
Girls are less programmed for such nimble, entrepreneurial behavior. As a result, they are more likely to find themselves in situations where the conversation is more important than the action.
Thus, the language advantage that girls already have by nature is enhanced during puberty. And this has positive implications for skills such as self-reflection and the ability to assess the intentions of others.
Based on this and many other aspects, scientists tell us the way to solve such a problem as adolescence risk appetite.
It is easier to negotiate with girls, and if the son does not understand the meaning of your speech, psychologists recommend giving the child to power sports, such as swimming or martial arts.
Also note that the path of brain development is not fixed. This is very dependent on which areas of the brain are most stimulated from an early age, so a teenager may be different from his peers – be less or more risky.