What Makes Teens Do What They Do?

Jul 31, 2013

“What are they Thinking: The Straight facts about the risk taking, social networking, still developing teen brain” by Aaron M. White and Scott Swartzwelder
Credit W.W. Norton & Company, Inc


While the verdict has long been out that adolescents are irrational and impulsive, recent research has shown that hormones are not the primary culprit for this behavior; the brain is also at fault.

What is going on, as Aaron White explained on “The State of Things,” is that “The brain undergoes a shift from having behavior driven by emotion --  that’s at the front end of adolescence -- to having the brain make decisions based on processing and foresight.

White is co-author of the book “What Are They Thinking: The Straight Facts about the Risk-Taking, Social-Networking, Still-Developing Teen Brain,” (W.W. Norton & Company/2013).  He works for the National Institutes of Health. Before that, he was an assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center.

He said that although changes in the brain and the resulting effects could be destructive, they are important for an individual’s development.

“We’re built to be risky," he said. "The brain is built to learn. During adolescence, you know, we’re supposed to push away from our families, go out and explore, take some chances, and allow the brain to be molded like crazy by those experiences because the brain assumes that whatever is going on during adolescence this must be vital stuff for survival for the rest of one’s life…”

However, there are more questions regarding this tumultuous period.

“Perhaps because life is lasting longer for us and because of the economic sort of security we have, you know, we’re not quite sure why, but adolescence itself is stretching," he said.