Two articles about the teenage brain and juvenile crime have a message for the way we think about the youth-driven social Web. “The teenage brain, Laurence Steinberg says, is like a car with a good accelerator but a weak brake. With powerful impulses under poor control, the likely result is a crash,” reports the Associated Press (it’s in the Chicago-area Daily Herald). He’s a psychology professor at Temple University referring to researchers’ growing understanding that the frontal lobe, or executive part, of the brain isn’t fully developed until people’s early to mid 20s.
That understanding should have an impact on criminal sentencing of minors, many experts argue, but it also says something about what society worldwide is seeing on the teenage part of the social Web. Identity exploration and risk assessment, experts tell us, is part of adolescent brain development.
It always has been offline, but now a lot of it is on display before adults’ very eyes on the Web. Awareness of teen behavior can be a little unnerving for adults and – again – always has been, but concern multiplies when 1) the adult observer doesn’t fully understand the medium; 2) teen behavioral norms, as always, different from adults’; and 3) the views, behaviors, and images of entire social networks are on display and instantly accessible to adults (a “super public,” as social-media researcher Danah Boyd calls it). Teens by definition take and assess risk, but this does not mean they don’t sometimes need someone “in the car” with them to help engage the brakes. [The other AP story was in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area’s Pioneer Press. See also the National Institute for Mental Health’s “Teenage brain: A work in progress.”]