Psychological Development Across the Lifespan

Adolescence (12–18)

Why are adolescents so reckless?

Adolescents are known for a level of recklessness and disregard of danger not found at any other age. They drive cars at fast speeds, drive while intoxicated, imbibe massive amounts of alcohol or illicit drugs, break laws, get into fights, have unsafe sex, and engage in many other high-risk behaviors. As the saying goes, adolescents seem to believe they are immortal. While this phenomenon is well recognized, it is not fully understood. Probably several factors contribute. For one, the myelination of the frontal lobe is not complete until the mid-twenties. Thus, the parts of the brain responsible for impulse control and the consideration of consequences are not fully developed. Further, the surge of testosterone, particularly in males, probably increases thrill-seeking behavior.

There is evidence that the emotional parts of the brain are more reactive as well. The combination of increased thrill seeking with inadequate impulse control can be a combustible mix. Social factors also come into play. The heightened emphasis on peer approval in adolescence, along with the desire to establish independence from parental authority, encourages adolescents to forcefully and publicly assert their independence. Caution and self-control can thus become a sign of childish dependency, a potential source of great embarrassment, and a target for peer ridicule. Common sense can become “uncool.”


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