Question: Adolescents are ‘all gasoline, no brakes, and no steering wheel’ (Bell and McBride, 2010)

During adolescence, young people undergo various physical, psychological, cognitive, behavioral, and social changes as they experience transition from childhood to adulthood. This phase of growth and development is paradoxical by its nature. Adolescents are stronger and more resistant to disease compared to members of other developmental stages. They are also fast, and many of them tend to have a high reasoning capacity. On the other hand, it is important to note that adolescence is also associated with high mortality rate due to lack of self-control. Adolescents are said to be “all gasoline, no brakes, and no steering wheel” (Bell & McBride, 2010, p.565).  They lack the capacity to suppress various actions, desires, and feelings that are not appropriate. This explains why they are at high risk for suicide, homicide, and accidental deaths.

Adolescents experience new demands of life as they try to become more independent and less dependent on parents and the family in general. They are faced with life situations that require them to make the right choices. However, the period of adolescence is characterized by inability to make optimal decisions (Casey & Caudle, 2013). Adolescents show a lack of self-control. Their desire to explore life often makes them restless. Many of them end up making bad decisions. This increases their vulnerability to self-harm. Adolescents also tend to be irrational and deviant (Casey & Caudle, 2013). Most of them act in a reckless and an irresponsible manner. Adolescents are also prone to juvenile crime.

The struggles experienced during the period of adolescence are basically due to the need to develop a sense of identity. Identity development begins during early childhood and it extends to later adolescence. As they grow up, adolescents increasingly become aware of their personal traits, and they develop their own ways of behaving and doing things (Gallagher, 2016). In the process, they acquire age, gender, and social identities. Exposure to the wider environment enables adolescents to identify with certain in-groups. For example, the school environment leads to association with friends and peer groups. In-group identification is closely followed by ethnic and national identities. It is during adolescence that most people come to realize that they belong to certain ethnic groups and specific countries. Self-identity helps to shape adolescents’ perceptions. Those who develop unrealistic and distorted perceptions about themselves tend to exhibit behavioral problems.

The prefrontal cortex region of the brain plays an important role in the organization of human behavior and regulation of various cognitive activities (Carlén, 2017). It enables individuals to adapt well to new and challenging demands. Adolescents are said to be unable to make rational decisions as a result of having a prefrontal cortex that is immature (Casey & Caudle, 2013). During adolescence, there occurs an imbalance in the development of different regions of the brain. The emotional and motivational sub-cortical regions develop and mature earlier than the prefrontal area. This condition explains why the adolescents tend to be more emotional compared to both adults and children.

Adolescents’ emotional wellbeing depends on the environment in which they are nurtured, and the developmental risks they are exposed to. For instance, poverty is one of the risk factors that cause crisis and instability during the stage of adolescence. However, response to environmental and risk factors tends to vary from one adolescent to another. This depends on their resilience. Adolescents who exhibit a high rate of resilience tend to adapt well to the environmental risk factors (Montgomery & Oates, 2016). Resilience is associated with optimism, cognitive competence, good social skills, self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-control. Thus, resilience enables adolescents to control various emotions that come their way. Lack of resilience causes emotional disturbance.

The capacity to adapt to changing environmental demands partly depends on one’s biological factors and experiential history (Lourenco & Casey, 2013). While some adolescents are able to regulate their behavior as a result of environmental changes, others are not able to do so. Despite these differences, it is important to note that adolescents experience similar degrees of stress and storm in their effort to adapt to the changes (Casey & Caudle, 2013). Those who are able to control their behavior when faced with challenges tend to adapt well. In contrast, adolescents who lack self-control end up getting adversely affected by the challenges.

It is also important to note that the kind of attachment that adolescents have towards other people plays an important role in their behavioral development. An individual’s attachment changes significantly during the different stages of development (Shmueli-Goetz, 2017). During the time of adolescence, childhood attachments are replaced by new forms of attachment. For instance, attachment to parents and siblings tends to be replaced to attachment to peers, teachers, and other people in the society who are important to the life of an adolescent. The aspect of attachment plays an important role in the development of self-esteem. While secure attachments lead to low engagement in risk behaviors and increase coping ability, insecure attachment is associated with various behavioral problems.

Reference List

Bell, C. C., & McBride, D. F. (2010) ‘Affect regulation and prevention of risky behaviors’, Journal of the American Medical Association, vol., 304, no. 5, pp. 565-566.

Carlén, M. (2017) ‘What constitutes the prefrontal cortex?’ Science, vol. 358, no. 6362, pp. 478-482.

Casey, B. J. & Caudle, K. (2013) ‘The Teenage Brain: Self Control’, Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 22, no.2, pp. 82-87.

Gallagher, P. (2016) ‘Chapter 7: Identity in Middle Childhood’, in Psychology of Childhood and youth, Milton Keynes, Open University.

Lourenco, F. & Casey, B. J. (2013) ‘Adjusting Behavior to Changing Environmental Demands with Development’, NeurosciBiobehav Rev, vol. 37, no. 9 Pt B, pp. 2233-2242.

Montgomery, H. & Oates, J. (2016) ‘Chapter 9: Emotion in Middle Childhood’, in Psychology of Childhood and youth, Milton Keynes, Open University

Shmueli-Goetz, Y (2017) ‘Chapter 6: Attachment in Middle Childhood’, in Psychology of Childhood and youth, Milton Keynes, Open University.

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