Adolescents, crime, and brain development

A dilemma that has been plaguing law enforcement for ages is whether or not adolescents who commit crimes should be treated the same as an adult who commits crimes. It’s only fair that criminals should be held accountable for their actions but should that be reconsidered when it comes to children? That is the question that the criminal justice system can’t come to a decision on.

First, let’s get the facts straight. Adolescents act different when out in groups. In a study conducted by Temple University, adolescents were asked to participate in an activity where they had to make a last minute decision on whether they should stop for a yellow light or keep going and hope for the best. When the adolescents were under the impression that their friends were watching them complete the activity, they were much more likely to run the yellow light. Although for adults, there was no change in behavior when they were told a friend was observing them. When compared to the results gathered from adults who participated in the experiment as well, it was obvious how much of an impact the presence of peers has on adolescents’ decision making skills. When adolescents are out in group the part of their brain that has to do with rewards light up which makes them more focused on the reward for making a risky decision than the possible dangers.

Some people think that in order to fix this problem, actions should be taken to try to reduce the crime rates of adolescents so that they don’t have to get involved in the criminal justice system in the first place. They want to stop the problem at the source. Changes that can be made to make this possible are better enforcement of curfew and increased adult supervision. Although there are some people who believe that adolescents should be held to the same standards as adults, regardless of their age. These people doubt that adolescents’ not yet fully-developed brains affect their behavior and that they should be able to control themselves and their urges when around their friends.

Another unique viewpoint on this debate is to blame the parents of the young offender. These people believe that the child acts out because of economic or social problems in their family. Children are a product of their parents and if the kid is a bad egg, the parent must be too. This poses the question: Who is really to blame? The adolescent with the easily influenced brain, the bad parent, the bad friends, all of the above?