Hard Wired for Risk: Neurological Science, “the Adolescent Brain,” and Developmental Theory

ArticleinJournal of Youth Studies 11(3):347-360 · June 2008with66 Reads
Impact Factor: 1.38 · DOI: 10.1080/13676260801948387


    This article considers claims now being made about ‘the adolescent brain’. It points out why some of those claims are problematic for methodological, social and philosophical reasons. Attention is given to how some ‘youth experts’ and others have used this research by relying on and reinforcing prejudicial stereotypes about young people as intrinsically problematic. Questions are asked about history and what that teaches us about such claims and what the implications are of uncritically accepting this latest ‘discovery’ in terms of rights and responsibilities. One response of those wedded to the adolescent brain model is to increase the age at which young people can engage in a number of activities. I argue that if we deny young people responsibility and opportunities to build a repertoire of experiences and to learn how events connect to emotions, then we are denying them the chance to develop their capacity for good judgment. The response proposed in this article rests on a different proposition that some young people are sometimes at risk not because their brains are different, but because they have not had the experience or opportunity to develop the skills and judgment that engagement in those activities and experiences supply.