Impulsive Behavior Among Teenagers
Teenagers behave erratically when a massive transformation triggered by the sudden bout of hormonal changes takes place in their body and minds. They often contradict their actions. A teenager may secure top scores in school and be the best at whatever she or he does, but the same teenager might show a complete irresponsible behavior by taking things like not driving while drunk or not texting while driving casually and ends up in an accident. It often makes adults wonder how come teenagers who apparently seem to be responsible, smart and accomplished in their behavior could be so irresponsible and reckless at the same time. Teenagers seem to be a prototype of contradictions when their actions do not go in sync. However, what appears to be contradictions might be the result of a paradoxical time of development when as Frances E. Jensen, a professor of neurology, opines that teenagers might be people with sharp brains but they are confused as how to use them (Ruder 2008; par. 2). There have been numerous researches conducted to trace the reason behind the erratic actions of teenagers and all these researches point towards the fact that teenage brain works differently than adults because of the underdeveloped frontal cortex and environmental and social influence. This paper has delved deep into the issue through the help of three articles notably authored by Debra Bradley Ruder, Sarah Spinks and David Brooks.
Debra Bradley Ruder in her article 'The Teen Brain' has explained that the result of studying teenage brains through functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) reveals that adolescent brains have certain sections and synapses which are fast-growing and yet unconnected, leading teenagers to behave impulsively under the influence of their environment (par. 3). She believes that teenagers should be made aware of this paradoxical development in brain to be able to tackle challenges. Frances E. Jensen and David K. Urion both of whom are professors of neurology have shown that the young brain changes and grows continuously and by the time a child reaches adolescence his brain is developed only by 80%. The largest part of the brain is called cortex which is divided into lobes. These lobes that mature from back to front have the last section called frontal lobe accountable for processing cognitive functions in the brain including planning, reasoning and judgment. In a normal human being, the mental merger does not get complete until one reaches the age between 25-30 years judgment (Ruder 2008; par. 5).
Sarah Spinks also in her article "One Reason Teens Respond Differently to the World" has mentioned about a research in which adolescent brains have been studied in comparison with adults brains through functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (par. 2). In that research both the adults and teens were shown the same pictures of adults faces to identify emotions. While the adults correctly identified the emotions, adolescents confused the emotions and gave different answers. It was found out that adults and teens actually used different sections of their brains to process their feelings. The adults used the frontal cortex while the teens used the amygdala, a small section of brain responsible for instinctive reactions (Spinks 2002, par. 3). Just as Jensen and Urion mentioned about the frontal cortex being responsible for cognitive functions, same way Yurgelun-Todd who is a director of neuropsychology at McLean Hospital opines that the frontal cortex helps adults put their reasoning, planning and judgment into action.
While explaining the teens’ misinterpretation of the emotions on the faces of the pictures, he opines that since frontal cortex is not fully developed in a teenage brain, an adolescent tends to use reactions rather than a rational thought while dealing with a situation. On the other hand, adult brain due to having a fully developed frontal cortex is able to apply logic and rationale behind an action (Spinks 2002, par. 6). Other neuroscientists like Yurgelun-Todd also believe that due to the underdeveloped frontal cortex, an adolescent brain is more prone to impulsivity and risk-taking behavior.
Apart from the brain development influencing the behavior of adolescents, there are environmental and behavioral reasons attributing to their behavior. For example, though sleep is considered to be important for memory and learning, most of the teenagers are sleep-deprived (Ruder 2008; par. 10). Furthermore, in an age when every bit of information is available at the tip of one's finger, teenagers are bombarded with information and frequently engage themselves in multi-tasking. The overload of information and tasks take a toll on teenage brains, making the cognitive process function in a confused way (Ruder 2008; par. 11). Similar explanations have been given by David Brooks in his article "The Odyssey Years". David has explained in his article that there used to be a time when human life could be divided into four phases including childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age, but now human life is divided into six phases including childhood, adolescence, odyssey, adulthood, active retirement and old age (par. 1).
The age between adolescent and adulthood has been termed by David as the odyssey years. According to David, the adulthood nowadays has become a delayed phenomenon due to a lot of environmental factors. There was a time when adulthood was defined by certain things like moving away from home to live on one's own, becoming independent financially, tying the knot and having a family (par. 4). In 1960s 70% people in their 30s would have achieved these things but nowadays only 40% people in the age group of 30s would do the same (par. 5).
In recent times over the last few decades, the world has changed a lot. The old formula for success doesn't apply for current generations. In an age when social networking has taken the place for hooking up and dating and blogging has replaced newspaper reading, the fluidity of the world has made an influence on the life patterns of young people. The fluidity in the job market and social life also has impacted the young lives. Earlier finding jobs was an easy affair after graduation and young people soon after completing graduation would get into a job that would last them till they retired, but now the same level of certainty is not there in the job market which is ridden with fierce competition, stress and complications. Social life has also become fluid with more and more women earning their college degrees and working abreast with their male counterparts (Brooks 2007; par. 11). Women wages have increased while male wages have reached stagnation. Educated women can achieve a lot of things without being married and sometimes, highly educated women find it difficult to get a partner. The odyssey years are thus rife with intense pressures as a multitude of people run after a few handfuls of opportunities (Brooks 2007; par. 11). The pressure felt in the odyssey years is palpable in adolescence when teenage students feeling bogged down by the pressure of achieving academic excellence and parental expectation give in to their environment by behaving recklessly and rebelliously.
In conclusion, it has long been a notion that teenage impulsivity is a result of hormonal changes and attitude but there are numerous researches pointing towards the fact that teenage impulsive behavior is the outcome of underdeveloped frontal cortex of the brain which is responsible for cognitive functions like reasoning, planning and judgment. The MRI study of the adolescent brains as have been cited by both Debra Bradley Ruder and Sarah Spinks shows that adult brain has a fully developed frontal cortex whereas teenage brain has partially developed frontal cortex. As a result, teenagers rely on amygdala, a small section of brain responsible for instinctive reactions, for dealing with challenging situations and they don’t apply logic and rationale before committing an action whereas adults fully depend on the frontal cortex for every action. Apart from the brain development influencing the behavior of adolescents, there are also environmental and behavioral reasons contributive to their behavior. In an age ridden with overload of information, job and social uncertainty, adulthood has become a delayed phenomenon with more and more people in their 30s delaying the accomplishments that define adulthood like becoming financially independent, getting married and having children. David Brooks has explained how environmental factors contribute to the odyssey years which are rife with competitive pressures and that pressure is felt early in adolescence when young teenage students come under the societal and parental pressure to pursue academic excellence and other accomplishments in order to fit into the competitive environment. Thus environmental force also makes an influence on young minds leading them to an impulsive behavior.
Ruder, Debra Bradley. The Teen Brain. Harvard Magazine. 2008. Web. 16 Dec 2013 <http://harvardmagazine.com/2008/09/the-teen-brain.html>
Spinks, Sarah. One Reason Teens Respond Differently to the World. Frontline. 2002. Web. 16 Dec 2013 <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/work/onereason.html>
Brooks, David. The Odyssey Years. The New York Times. 9 Oct 2007. Web. 16 Dec 2013 <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/09/opinion/09brooks.html?_r=0>