Adulthood at 18? Not so much. More like 24.May 7, 2012 @ 6:25 pm (Updated: 5:43 am - 5/8/12 )
By Rachel Belle
When you're 16, you're entitled to a bit of immaturity. You might sleep until noon every weekend, make poor decisions and get into trouble. But when you turn 18 you have the right to vote, buy cigarettes and gamble. You're officially branded an adult in this country. But think back to when you were 18: did you really feel like an adult? I definitely did not. Scientists now say that as far as your brain is concerned you're not an adult at 18.
Jen Brown is a nurse in the adolescent medicine department at Seattle Children's Hospital.
"For late teenagers, there are still some of those adolescent traits, what they call Sensation Seeking, doing things for the thrill of them. From what we can tell, the brain peaks at 15 for that kind of thing. In the late teens I think that people are taking risks and perhaps seeing rewards such as something novel or a new sensation or peer approval."
Even though some of the risks can be negative, like driving drunk without thinking of the consequences or having unprotected sex and not thinking that they could get pregnant or an STD, there's an evolutionary purpose to acting like a crazy monkey in your late teens.
"There's a theory that all of these traits are basically what you need to boot yourself out of the house. You are seeking thrills and you are caring more about your peers than your parents and that's important because you're transitioning. It drives adolescents out of the home. In your parents home, you're fed, you're clothed, you're sheltered. You need a reason to leave or you just stay there forever."
So when your smart teenager makes terrible decisions, sometimes their brain is to blame. The frontal lobe of the brain is the last to develop, and that's the place where you learn to organize, form strategies, control impulses and weigh priorities. This part of the brain usually isn't fully developed until you're about 24-year-old. But Jen says you should still try and set your teen on a good path.
"An important thing for parents to do is help their teens learn self control. To help their teens learn which risks could have some really cool rewards. Learning something new, meeting someone new, traveling; there are plenty of risks out there that can be really useful. As opposed to risks that just don't have much of a reward."
Like doing meth and dropping out of college! Despite the fact that the brain isn't quite adult, cultures around the world seem to be fixated on the number 18.
"If you look at most societies, the average age for being considered an adult is about 18. I looked up the average age of marriage around the world. It's about 18, for women anyway."
So should we shift the age of adulthood in this country?
"I certainly wouldn't say that we should raise the age of majority because of this research. I think that by 18 most late teenagers, depending on their circumstances, have the the capacity to act in an adult manner, even if their thinking is different from a 30 or 40-year-old."
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