Just as nutrition in the early childhood years is crucial to a schoolchild’s IQ, the experiences of the adolescent brain can affect behavior as adult.
It was always assumed the brain is fully mature in adolescence. Recent research evidence however shows this is not so. According to Harvard neuroscientist Dr. Frances Jensen, “adolescent brains “are only about 80 percent of the way to maturity.” Full maturity is reached in the mid-20s or even later.
The adolescent brain (according to a report in Newsweek):
- Has excessive amount of gray matter which makes it easy to learning new things
- Is especially sensitive to environmental factors, especially emotional and physical
- Has processing centers not yet fully linked, “particularly the parts responsible for helping to check our impulses and considering the long-term repercussions of our actions.”
These properties of the adolescent brain explain risky behavior, insensitive remarks and other signs of thoughtlessness.
In the same period, the impressionable adolescent brain is high susceptible to environmental influences, especially peer pressure. It is during this period that strong relationships and social connections help navigates the so-called growing pains.
According to Dr. Mitch Prinstein, professor and director of clinical psychology, at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill:
“The most potent predictors of why adolescents engage in all kinds of health-risk behaviors—substance use, sexual behavior, even recently, self-cutting—is very much related to how much they perceive that their close friends are doing the same thing, or someone that they consider very cool and popular is doing the same thing.”
Unfortunately, risk behavior in adolescence can have consequences in adult life. Those exposed early to high levels of alcohol will have the risk of having alcohol problems later in life.
Other types of stressors, including bullying and abuse can reflect as posttraumatic stress in adult life and can even be passed on to the next generation. Peer rejection as teenager, for example, may translate into depressive symptoms.
Fortunately, strong relationships and coping skills can counterbalance the negative stressors: Examples of such coping skills are anticonformism and dabbling with delinquency without crossing the boundaries.
And the good news is that, despite our most susceptible brains at adolescence, most of us – more than 90% in fact – turn out fine and outgrow the delinquency.