From the age of 14 to 15, young people are better able to perform higher abstract tasks. They can better anticipate upcoming situations and they learn to better estimate the consequences of their actions.
Although they are now better able to estimate the direct consequences of their behaviour, they do not yet understand the long-term effects for themselves and for others. This is because the brain systems needed for longer-term estimates are not yet fully active. These are brain systems in which knowledge and experiences are stored. This knowledge and experience is necessary to be able to compare previously experienced situations with new situations in order to make estimates based on this. Adolescents have not yet had those experiences. Moreover, it is very difficult for an adolescent to withdraw from a risky situation, especially if that situation earns him a lot of appreciation from his peers. As a result, an adolescent has less control over their impulses.
The problem with adolescents is not that they do not know that they are engaging in risky behavior. They know that binge drinking entails enormous risks and they also know that smoking is really dangerous. The “problem” is that it is in an adolescent's system to try things out, to see how far he can go and last but not least to be appreciated in the group of friends.
Example Many adolescents, including young adolescents, smoke. It's not that they don't know that smoking is dangerous and addictive. They know that. The first cigarettes taste very bad. It makes you dizzy and often nauseous. In addition, cigarettes cost a lot of money. Nevertheless, both girls and boys regularly light a cigarette. Why? Adolescents know it's dangerous, but they don't feel that danger. There are no alarm bells ringing in their heads. Their stomachs don't contract. On the contrary, if you smoke you belong to your peer group. You get appreciation from your peers. "Can you smoke over your lungs? No, that's not smoking what you're doing. You're puffing a little. You almost choke on smoke, but now you will inhale as deep as possible. Smoking over the lungs. The same process takes place when binge drinking or boosting the scooter, so that the thing does not travel 40 but 80 km per hour. "
A fifteen-year-old can understand the consequences of his actions, but he is not able to feel the possible consequences of his behavior and change accordingly. The consequences of his behavior do not evoke the same emotions as in an adult. Brain systems that inhibit behavior when making dangerous choices by evoking unpleasant feelings such as nausea or tightness work in adolescence, but they are drowned out by systems that respond to reward. Especially when the reward involves admiration from peers.
Example A boy of about sixteen years old races through a residential area with his scooter at about ten o'clock in the evening. He tied this crazy helmet to the luggage rack. In a way he has thought about it because at ten o'clock the neighbor children are no longer playing in the street. Now it's best. He is not warned by a nauseating signal somewhere around the stomach area. Unfortunately, the neighbor's cat hadn't gone to bed yet. The boy knows he's acting like a fool, but he doesn't feel it.
Young people not only need coaching, but they also need guidance. Explaining that it is dangerous to tear through the neighborhood with your scooter at ten o'clock in the evening does not help. The youngster himself knows that. Nothing is more demotivating than wanting to teach someone something he already knows. Then why is he doing it? The desire for the short-term reward in the form of the thrill of his speed and the appreciation of his friends for his daring is very strong. In an adult with a normally functioning emotional system, in addition to an emotion such as excitement, emotions such as fear, disgust and disapproval would also arise. Sweat breaks out on him. There is a stone on his stomach and the blush rises to his head. Before all that happens, his emotional system has long since kicked in and he's quietly chugging down the street on his scooter and helmet on his head. Adolescents need guidance in this development to prevent them from making irreversible mistakes. It is the job of parents and teachers to prevent peer pressure from allowing a young person to do things that are dangerous and have irreversible consequences. It is therefore important that adults resist overly impulsive behavior and set clear boundaries.
Brains develop in relation to stimuli from the environment. These are not always meaningful, valuable or appropriate incentives. The school and the parents must create conditions in which as many meaningful incentives as possible are offered. However, the reality is that at home, but also at school or on the street, adolescents encounter a large amount of unnecessary or even harmful stimuli. From screeching marital quarrels to smoking weed and hearing or even uttering racist remarks. The risk of an adolescent's highly flexible and sensitive brain is that these concepts become ingrained. It takes a lot of effort to change those ingrained naïve or evil concepts. A human's working memory acts as a spam filter and a bouncer at the same time. It filters unnecessary, irrelevant or even malicious information and keeps it out. However, what is an unwelcome guest to an adult who must be stopped as soon as possible may not be so to an adolescent. Setting boundaries and explicit guidance does not prevent an adolescent from having different thoughts about what is meaningful or very boring. And that's a good thing, because adolescents need to be able to test their own thoughts against reality. However, due to the stage they are in and the pressure of the age group, they are not able to set limits themselves. They need guidance to help them recognize and reject naïve or evil concepts.