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The neuroscience behind teenage crimes

On Behalf of | Jul 7, 2024 | Criminal Defense |

Most adults will agree: we’ve done some bad things in our youth. Tales of pushing boundaries and risky behavior are common themes at many class reunions.

And while some people may want to blame poor parenting or peer pressure, it’s also true that a teenager’s brain is wired differently than an adult’s. For some youth, it can lead to criminal behavior.

A work in progress

Brain development is an ongoing process; during adolescence, some areas aren’t fully developed. This immature brain influences many actions. Consider the following:

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for decision-making, impulse control and the ability to foresee the long-term consequences of actions. The incomplete development of this area means that teenagers are more prone to impulsive behavior and poor judgment.

The limbic system is involved in emotion regulation and processing rewards and risks. This area is highly active during adolescence and can lead teenagers to prioritize short-term rewards, contributing to risk-taking behaviors and susceptibility to peer pressure.

The brain also constantly strengthens certain neural connections while eliminating weaker ones. While this process is essential for brain maturation, it also means the adolescent brain is more adaptable and sensitive to environmental influences, such as peer pressure.

The desire to form relationships and fit in can lead to conforming to group behaviors, even if they are risky or illegal. However, a supportive family environment can help mitigate some risks associated with an adolescent’s brain development.

Understanding the neuroscience behind a teenager’s criminal behavior is crucial for the justice system. There needs to be an emphasis on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Focusing on therapy, mentorship and educational opportunities is more likely to be effective in reducing repeat offenses.

If your teenager has been charged with a crime, it’s imperative to work with someone who understands the role that brain development has in an adolescent’s behavior. They can help build a strong defense and work to secure the best possible outcome for your child.


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