National Academies Report Says Teen Neurology Should Shape Juvenile Justice Reform Efforts

A new report from the National Research Council suggests that juvenile justice reform efforts should be grounded in the emerging understanding of adolescent development. “Evidence of significant changes in brain structure and function during adolescence strongly suggests that these cognitive tendencies characteristic of adolescents are associated with biological immaturity of the brain and with an imbalance among developing brain systems,” the report says.

Cookie Cutters Are Not Tools in Our Business

Got up early this morning and began my daily reflection with my cup of coffee in hand and it hit me — there is an interesting paradox about how we use the adolescent brain research. On one hand, those of us who call for reform in juvenile justice, especially in the area of detention, adult transfers and life sentences (especially without parole) rely heavily on this research showing that kids are wired to do stupid things. They are neurologically immature—still under construction. The adolescent brain research is often touted by advocates like me as evidence in support of detention reform. On the other hand, what does this research mean when applied to those kids who are just plain scary?

What Does Brain Development Have to do With Teen Behavior?

As I read about or listen to parents of adolescents, the most common comment I hear is that their kids seem to be regressing not progressing. Complaints of irresponsible behavior, disrespect, and unpredictable, often-explosive emotions seem to be the mantra of many parents of teens. In some cases this could also involve high-risk behaviors such as drinking, drug use and other illegal or morally questionable activities. Although these behavioral changes around adolescence are hard to deal with, new research in brain development suggests they are fairly easy to explain.

Teen Brain Development: Neural Gawkiness

The young are heated by Nature as drunken men by wine.   — Artistotle

Adults’ enduring perplexity about teenagers are captured in quotes by Aristotle and Shakespeare in The New Science of the Teenage Brain, the cover story of the October National Geographic Magazine. The article, by David Dobbs, explains how young people’s lives are shaped by the mind-blowing reorganization occurring in the brains of adolescents between the ages of 12-25. The article is fascinating, and it’s worth reading the entire piece. It’s also a fabulous tool for us to use to get policymakers’ attention as to why so many policies and programs like Scared Straight, lock them up, and zero tolerance don’t work.