Every once in a while a Scout does something so stunningly foolish and reckless we stop and ask; “He’s such an intelligent kid, why did he do something so stupid?”
Emerging brain development research explains the sometimes stunningly bad choices adolescents make. Understanding how the developing adolescent brain works will help us help our Scouts avoid risky behavior and address the consequences of bad choices when they occur.
Why do they act this way?
No matter how many times you have heard it repeated teenagers do not perceive themselves to be invulnerable. Researchers tell us that teenagers make poor choices about risk because they have not developed that part of the brain that provides for a working understanding of the good or bad consequences of a given action.
It’s surprising to learn that teenagers often over estimate risk. They sometimes choose poorly because they tend to weight benefits more heavily than risks.
For example let’s imagine we’re standing on a six foot platform with a ladder to the ground. It may be riskier to jump down but we’ll get down much quicker than taking the ladder. As an adult I would weigh taking the ladder as a sure thing, I’ll be on the ground safely. It will take a few seconds longer but I may hurt myself if I jump.
To a teenager the benefit of getting down quicker becomes so heavily weighted in the equation that it outweighs the risk. So he jumps.
Poor risk assessment is compounded by four other factors:
- Teens are much more motivated by the promise of rewards then they are discouraged by the threat of punishment.
- Teen brains don’t sort out mixed signals very well.
- Teens are actively looking for experiences that create intense feelings- thrills, sensations, excitement, novelty and tend to react more strongly to emotional situations.
- Teens are heavily influenced rewards of admiration and notoriety from their peers.
In part two we’ll discuss how we can help Scouts deal with risky situations.