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Adolescent Brains Not Ready to Avoid Risks, Study Says

JoinTogether.com, April 10, 2007

Research Summary

A Temple University psychologist argues that society would be better off using strict laws to prevent risky behaviors by adolescents rather than education programs, saying that teens' brains are too immature to avoid risk-taking, USA Today reported April 5.

"We need to rethink our whole approach to preventing teen risk," said researcher Laurence Steinberg, who drew his conclusions after reviewing a decade's worth of research on the adolescent brain. "Adolescents are at an age where they do not have full capacity to control themselves. As adults, we need to do some of the controlling."

Steinberg said society would be best served by raising the driving age, increasing cigarette prices, and enforcing underage-drinking laws than investing in prevention programs. "I don't believe the problem behind teen risky behavior is a lack of knowledge," he said. "The programs do a good job in teaching kids the facts. Education alone doesn't work. It doesn't seem to affect their behavior."

"Kids will sign drug pledges. They really mean that, but when they get in a park on a Friday night with their friends, that pledge is nowhere to be found in their brain structure," agreed psychologist Michael Bradley. "They're missing the neurologic brakes that adults have."

Isabel Sawhill, co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, said the findings are "good research for policymakers to consider, but we shouldn't infer from this research that all our past efforts have been ineffective. I'm not in favor of just doing education, but I'm also not in favor of not doing it, either. We need to do some of both."

The research review was published in the April 2007 issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science.

This article summarizes a mainstream media report of research published in a scientific journal. It is not an original analysis of the source material, which is cited in the reference above.