Make teen marriages last

Why young people risk their heads and necks

The psychologist Steinberg testified in five criminal proceedings with young people in 2017. In a court in Kentucky, for example, he explained how young people's decision-making depends on their emotions. As a result, the court raised the minimum age for the death penalty to 21 years. The new findings have also been used as arguments against mandatory life sentences without parole for offenders under the age of 21.

The scientists are thrilled that their work on development research is heard in politics. Some, including Satterthwaite and Galván, point out that there are pitfalls in using fMRI data for individual court cases. The data from the imaging studies are usually averaged across all participants in a study, which is why it is risky to draw conclusions about an individual's brain. "To be honest, I'm not in favor of using neuroimaging data in court," says Satterthwaite. "There are too many disruptive factors."

The data are still too imprecise for diagnostic purposes. Satterthwaite is entranced by the possibility that in the future certain reactions of the adolescent brain in risky situations could be recognized as early symptoms of depression or anxiety. He hopes that one day the research will support clinical treatment. "The idea that someone who exhibits life-threatening behavior leaves without a diagnostic test, without imaging and without laboratory examination is simply medieval," he says.

The broader research on risk taking among adolescents is already helping to minimize dangerous behavior in everyday life. It is known that sleep-deprived adolescents are more susceptible to risks, whether it be smoking or unprotected sexual activity. Dozens of studies suggest that sleeping longer and starting school later could reduce problems and risky behavior. Institutions such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics support this and recommend starting school at 8:30 a.m. at the earliest. Even though hundreds of schools in the United States have postponed their morning gong, the average for middle school in 2014 was still 8:00 a.m.

Steinberg argues that young people should first be exposed to fewer risks, for example by raising the minimum age for buying tobacco to 21 and forbidding alcohol to be sold within 300 meters of schools. These measures are probably more promising than pure information events for schoolchildren, he says. There are other strategies to prevent dangerous behavior as well. For example, young drivers in Australia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland and the USA must first gain experience before they can take other young people with them unaccompanied by an adult. With the help of such programs, the number of accident victims among young drivers could be reduced.

But a little risk is also a good thing, says B. J. Casey, a neuroscientist at Yale University in Connecticut. “We don't want young people to stop taking risks at all. Because these experiences make their adult life safer, «she says.

Young people have a lot to learn to become independent in the process - and nobody said it was easy. “I don't think there is a more demanding phase of development in our lives,” says Casey. “At each of my lectures I ask the audience to show with hands who would like to go through puberty again. Nobody has ever called. "