Factors such as genes, the environment and experiences of childhood all influence the kind of behavior a young person exhibits. In addition, scientists have been using the latest technologies to study the growth of the brain from birth to adulthood. Their research has found that in many important ways, the brain of a teen does not resemble that of an adult until he or she reaches the early twenties.
Unfortunately, relative to other ages, crime rates are highest among young males. Brain imaging studies indicate that responses to emotionally charged situations are heightened during the teen years and stress hormones affect the brain, and therefore teen behavior, in complex ways.
Brain changes and teen emotions
Brain imaging studies suggest that the circuitry affecting behavior is in a state of flux during the teen years. While people point out that teenagers do not control their impulses as well as adults, brain research indicates this is not strictly a matter of choice but that biologically they are simply more vulnerable to peer pressure and to making impetuous decisions.
The frontal lobes of the brain control impulses. Inexplicable behavior and poor judgment occur when teen emotions are running high, creating an overload for the circuitry, which is still maturing, in the front part of the brain.
Handling juvenile crime
Information about still-developing juvenile brains affects the way teens are treated in the justice system. When compared to adults, teenagers are more impulsive, emotionally volatile, aggressive and likely to take risks. Child advocates say that, in committing a crime, they should not be held to the same standards as adults.
To that end, the Supreme Court has outlawed the death penalty for felons younger than 18. Justice Anthony Kennedy held that because of their lack of maturity, young people make ”impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions” and that they are more susceptible to outside influences, including peer pressure, “causing them to have less control over their environment.”
Experts on juvenile behavior contend that rehabilitation is more effective for juveniles who face criminal charges than it is for adults, in part because their mental capabilities are still evolving. Studies show that the violence teenagers exhibit toward others often diminishes as they grow into their twenties, and this is the time of life when the frontal lobes of the brain reach maturity. Better decisions and controlled impulses follow; the teenager has become an adult.
Until then, a teen in trouble needs support and guidance. Experienced criminal defense attorneys understand the complexities related to juvenile crime and are available for consultation and representation in such matters.