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Adolescent brain has influence on juvenile criminal behavior

Juveniles committing crimes is a reality in communities throughout the nation, including Colorado Springs. Young people may find themselves facing charges for such offenses as shoplifting, criminal mischief, underage drinking, drug possession and traffic violations. The consequences for a conviction vary widely but can have long lasting implications. According to one man who studies the development of adolescent brains, the criminal justice system needs to take a second look on how the adolescents are being treated and why.

He proposes that due to the way the brain of an adolescent develops many of the actions undertaken by young people may actually be due to a lack of control. There are several factors that contribute to sometimes questionable behavior on the part of teens.

First, in general it is difficult for teens to stop impulses. While the portion of the brain that leads us to seek excitement and rewards is fairly well developed in adolescents this age, the portion that is responsible for putting brakes on a behavior is not.

Second, teens in groups are more prone to engage in behavior considered risky when they are surrounded by their peers. One study indicated that brain activity of adolescents changes in those situations.

Next, during adolescence the portion of the brain that deals with behaviors is changing. Between pre-adolescence and one's 20s, that area of the brain actually becomes better connected to other parts, which in turn makes communications between the regions easier.

There is some good news this expert shares. Perhaps not surprisingly, during adolescence, an involved parent or other adult makes it easier for a youth this age to stop himself or herself from participating in behavior considered risky. Parents who find themselves having to reign their teens in will also be happy to know that only around 10 percent of youngster who engage in criminal activities actually go on to continue this behavior as adults.

Because of the state of an adolescent's brain when they engage in illegal behavior, the man believes that the justice system needs to maintain a separate track for adolescents and adults. He believes that juvenile offenders should truly be treated as juveniles and not as adults. Do you agree?

Source: Minnesota Public Radio, "6 facts about crime and the adolescent brain," Emily Kaiser, Nov. 15, 2012

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