A majority of people tend to perceive adolescents, especially those in their late teens to be adults. The main reason may be attributed to the fact that such teens appear to be mature, physically. People, therefore, begin to judge their behavior and actions from an adult’s point of view. A majority of the time, the adolescents fall short of such expectations. That is because their brains specifically, are yet to reach maturation. Sharma et al. (2013) define adolescence as a developmental phase when children transition into adults. The change occurs at hormonal, intellectual, social, and physical dimensions. The inclusion of the word “children” in the definition is essential in asserting that adolescents are children and not adults as often perceived. On the other hand, Caneo and Neirotti (2017) define adulthood as the achievement of a phase where a person matures biologically, psychologically, and mentally. They further state that maturity is subject to a person’s environment. That may explain the bias around adolescents. People perceive adolescents to be adults due to the way they conduct themselves. The adolescents may even have undertaken adult duties and privileges creating the false impression that they have matured.
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The Structural Transformation of the Brain
Brain development occurs in a predictable sequence. It begins with basic brain functions and gradually transitions to more complex functions. The two most important factors that influence brain development are genetic inheritance and the environment where a child grows. The nature of their interaction determines the rate of brain development. The first step of brain development is neurogenesis, which involves the generation of neurons. It occurs while the fetus is still developing in the uterus. Neural migration begins after birth and involves the distribution of neurons to various sections of the brain. The intended purpose of the neurons influences the distribution. The next process is myelination, which begins in the brain stem before birth but continues until the latter stages of adolescence when it reaches the frontal cortex of the brain. During myelination, a fatty coating (myelin) covers the axon of the neurons for protection and transmission purposes. The brain also undergoes pruning which is estimated to take place between the ages of three and sixteen. The purpose of pruning is to eliminate unnecessary or redundant connections to create room for the development of the essential connections. Pruning has been attributed to more efficient brain activity. Research has suggested that there is some correlation between successful pruning and proper decision making. Pruning, therefore, affects behavior by extension and establishes the difference between adolescents and adults (Sharma et al., 2013).
Response to Technology
Giedd (2012) states that in the face of technology, the adolescent mind has proved to be more elastic than the adult brain. Giedd attributes the plasticity to the psychological need of adolescents to seek sensation. Brain plasticity varies throughout the human lifecycle but is highest in the adolescence phase. At that stage, adolescents go through tremendous changes physically, hormonally, and emotionally. Their brains are, therefore, forced to adapt to those dynamic changes to enable adolescents to cope. The penetration of technology among adolescents occurs at a faster rate than among adults, especially those beyond the age of 40. Giedd notes that adolescents are increasingly spending more time on technological devices over time. For example, adolescents were spending an average of 8.5 hours on their digital devices in 2010 up from 6.5 hours in 2006. The number of hours has increased even further with the current advancements in technology. The number of hours spent on digital devices decreases as the adolescents become adults.
Crone and Konijn (2018) observe that brain development, especially during adolescence, is sensitive to the environment. That means that an adolescent’s environment affects their brain development and hence, their behavioral development by extension. They also raise a concern about the effects that the current advancements in technology may have on adolescents. With the average teenager spending at least eight hours a day on their digital devices, it is undeniable that technology forms a significant part of their environment. Unfortunately, technology has exposed teenagers to unlimited information, both good and bad. Technology can either contribute positively or negatively to brain development depending on how it is used. However, it is impossible to limit exposure to only constructive information. The only feasible action, therefore, becomes limiting the amount of leisure time that adolescents spend on digital devices. Instead, adolescents should be encouraged to spend their free time on other activities that involve physical interaction with their environments.
The study of brain development reveals that adolescents lean more towards children than adults. Sufficient research has also proved that adolescents are more impulsive in their actions as opposed to adults. It is also essential to consider the effect of life experiences in molding a person’s behavioral development. An adult may not be impulsive even in the presence of strong stimuli due to past experiences. That may not be the case for adolescents who like children, show significantly stronger impulsive responses to stimuli such as food, gifts, and love. Under no circumstance should adolescents be considered as adults. Instead, they should be provided with a conducive environment to facilitate their brain development.
Canêo, L., & Neirotti, R. (2017). The Importance of the Proper Definition of Adulthood: What is and What is Not Included in a Scientific Publication. Brazilian Journal Of Cardiovascular Surgery, 32(1). doi: 10.21470/1678-9741-2016-0049
Crone, E., & Konijn, E. (2018). Media use and brain development during adolescence. Nature Communications, 9(1). doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-03126-x
Giedd, J. (2012). The Digital Revolution and Adolescent Brain Evolution. Journal Of Adolescent Health, 51(2), 101-105. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.06.002
Sharma, S., Arain, M., Mathur, P., Rais, A., Nel, W., & Sandhu, R. et al. (2013). Maturation of the adolescent brain. Neuropsychiatric Disease And Treatment, 9, 449. doi: 10.2147/ndt.s39776