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Teenagers, by reputation, are drawn to daredevil behavior. Now a new study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism tells us why: They're wired that way.
"The adolescent brain is not fully developed, making teens less motivated than adults to work for long-term rewards," says the study's lead author, James Bjork, PhD, who compared brain scans of 12- to 17-year-olds with those of 22- to 28-year-olds.
High-risk activities such as drug-taking offer a big immediate payoff for very little effort -- the very source of their appeal to teenagers. Parents can wield more influence by stressing a behavior's short-term downside rather than its ultimate consequences. A child who's been caught smoking, for instance, will be indifferent to the threat of lung cancer 30 years down the road, notes Dr. Bjork, but may be persuaded by the prospect of yellow teeth or diminished athletic performance now.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, June 2004.