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Invincibility: young people and their decisions

Posted at 10:31 AM, Jun 11, 2018

It’s not as much hard-headedness as it is seeking approval. 

Young people doing, sometimes, irresponsible things – not considering the impact their actions could have on those around them, or themselves. 

“The reason that adolescence tend to engage in risk-taking behavior is that they’re more focused on the potential rewards of that behavior. So when they think about driving fast in a car with friends, they’re more focused on their friends having a blast and cheering them on or the thrill of the wind going through their hair,” Dr. Elizabeth Reynolds, a clinical psychologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said. 

Reynolds primarily focuses on children and young adults. 

As well-versed as she is on why teens do what they do, she tends to look a little deeper into what impacts their impacts their decision making. 

“Instead of being invincible, it’s more that they are really focused on what that behavior could potentially lead to and the positive sides of that behavior – the rewards,” Reynolds said. 

Peer pressure, group think, ‘showing off’ – all factors that can easily contribute to going down the right road or the wrong one says Reynolds. 

She says, for the most part, young people understand the risks, but the triggers in their brain that’d give them a little more rationale haven’t fully developed. 

“The brakes in our brain, we find, don’t really develop all the way until you’re in your mid 20’s, unlike the part of your brain that has the reward section. So it’s basically like we get high arousal for reward, but we don’t have the brakes. It’s like getting in a car without the brakes,” Reynolds said. 

But parents, coaches, or other older mentors can help teens and young adults pump those brakes. 
Dr. Reynolds recommends sports or camps to help use that inevitable risk taking energy, and channel it for something safe and controlled. 

“I think the other way adults can help is providing structure and supervision. As we transition into summer, we need to have activities available that are safe and monitored,” she said.