National Geographic has an excellent article on teenage risk-taking and adolescent brain development.
It goes some way to explaining both the dangerous mistakes that typically peak in the late teens and, I like to think, the bad fashion sense which seems to follow a similar pattern.
Importantly, the piece goes beyond the usually ‘well the frontal lobes are still developing, aren’t they?’ explanation that gets wheeled out whenever teen neuroscience is discussed and hits on some of the gritty details.
Are these kids just being stupid? That’s the conventional explanation: They’re not thinking, or by the work-in-progress model, their puny developing brains fail them.
Yet these explanations don’t hold up. As Laurence Steinberg, a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescence at Temple University, points out, even 14- to 17-year-olds—the biggest risk takers—use the same basic cognitive strategies that adults do, and they usually reason their way through problems just as well as adults. Contrary to popular belief, they also fully recognize they’re mortal. And, like adults, says Steinberg, “teens actually overestimate risk.”
So if teens think as well as adults do and recognize risk just as well, why do they take more chances? Here, as elsewhere, the problem lies less in what teens lack compared with adults than in what they have more of. Teens take more risks not because they don’t understand the dangers but because they weigh risk versus reward differently: In situations where risk can get them something they want, they value the reward more heavily than adults do.
Probably one of the most comprehensive introductions to teen risk you’ll read in a good while.
Link to National Gerographic on Teenage Brains.