Adolescent Development Content by the National Juvenile Defender Center in partnership with Juvenile Law Center. Some slides courtesy of Jennifer Woolard, PhD
Presenter: Daniel Murrie, PhD: Institute of Law, Psychiatry, and Public Policy University of Virginia School of Medicine, University of Virginia School of Law
Disclaimers necessary for a talk on adolescence • Everyone has first-hand experience • Experience is a help and a hindrance • Research describes generalities of adolescent development • Generalities are ripe for misuse and misunderstanding in the individual case
Beware the ecological fallacy • Taking data obtained from comparing groups and applying it directly to an individual “On average, adolescents are less psychosocially mature than adults” “Therefore, my teenage client is psychosocially immature”
Adolescent Development is: • Nonlinear • It leaps, stalls, and even regresses • Varied across adolescents • Different kids develop at different rates • Varied within an adolescent • Development in one area does not imply similar development in another area
Nevertheless, certain generalities are relevant to juvenile justice: Adolescents may be less competent than adults in ways that affect their ability to serve as defendants Adolescents may be less developed, making prediction of future behavior more difficult Adolescents may have certain deficiencies that diminish, or mitigate, their criminal responsibility
First, as any parent knows, and as the scientific and sociological studies… tend to confirm, a “lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility are found in youth more often than in adults. These qualities often result in impetuous and ill-considered actions and opinions.”… The second area of difference is that juveniles are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure….The third broad difference is that the character of a juvenile is not as well-formed as that of an adult. The personality traits of juveniles are more transitory, less fixed. Source: Majority opinion, U.S. Supreme Court, Roper v. Simmons
Adolescent Development includes: • Cognitive Development • Brain Development • Moral Development • Identity and Social Development • Context
Cognitive Development How do adolescents think? How does adolescent thinking differ from that of children or adults? How does adolescent thinking increase the likelihood of taking unacceptable risks and engaging in undesirable behavior?
Major Cognitive Changes in Adolescence • Possibilities • Abstraction • Thinking about thinking (metacognition) • Thinking in multiple dimensions • Relativity
Psychosocial Influences on Cognition • Risk Taking • Value consequences differently from adults • Sensation Seeking • Need for novel and complex experiences
Psychosocial Influences on Cognition Present Oriented Thinking Difficulty thinking about the future and delaying gratification Peer Influences More vulnerable to peer pressure particularly in risky situations
Psychosocial Influences on Cognition Adolescents and Egocentrism self conscious self focused self absorbed may show less empathy Magical Thinking Misjudge otherwise predictable or obvious outcomes
Psychosocial Development and Decision-Making • Ability to appraise risks and consequences • Ability to act with prudence and after consideration • Ability to resist peer pressure • Ability to experience empathy
Psychosocial Development and Decision-Making • How do psychosocial factors influence youth’s decision-making in this incident? • Risk Taking • Sensation Seeking • Peer Influence • Present-Oriented Thinking • Egocentricity
Frontal Lobe Parietal Lobe Occipital Lobe Lateral Fissure Temporal Lobe Central Sulcus
What Does Research Say About Adolescent Brain Development? • Two distinct sets of brain systems relevant to adolescent behavior. • Systems involve different regions of the brain and develop along different time tables.
Two Systems…. • Socio-emotional system • mainly involves the limbic system and the ventromedial (lower inside) and orbitofrontal (lower front) areas of the frontal lobe • Cognitive control system • mainly involves the dorsolateral (upper outside) area of the frontal lobe and the parietal lobe
The Socio-Emotional System • Responsible for processing emotions, social information, reward and punishment • Undergoes major changes in early adolescence (related to hormonal changes). • Changes in early adolescence result in: • Increased sensation-seeking • Increased/easier emotional arousal • Increased attentiveness to social information
The Cognitive Control System • Responsible for deliberative thinking, weighing costs and benefits, thinking ahead, regulating impulses • Develops gradually from preadolescence, well into the mid-20s • Changes result in • More impulse control • Better emotion regulation • More foresight • More planning ahead • Better reasoning
What Does It All Mean? • A socio-emotional system that is easily aroused and highly sensitive to social feedback • A still-immature cognitive control system • As a result, adolescents are • Less skilled at controlling impulses • Less skilled at resisting pressure from peers • Less likely to think ahead • More driven by the thrill of rewards
If adolescents are as smart as adults, why do they often do stupid things?
Limitations of Brain Research • It can nottell us where to draw an age boundary between adolescence and adulthood • It can notsubstitute for an assessment of an individual’s actual behavior • It can nottell us when individuals are still able to change, or are still amenable to treatment • It does not change anything we already knew about differences between the behavior of adolescents and adults
Cognitive Development and Moral Reasoning • Key advances in adolescents’ moral reasoning occurs as: • Thinking becomes more abstract • Beliefs become more rooted in general principles • Beliefs become more based on youth’s own values and not values imposed by others
Moral Stage Theory • Pre-conventional moral reasoning • Based on self-interest and focus on rewards and punishments • Conventional moral reasoning • Focus is on social approval and how one will be judged by others • Post-conventional moral reasoning • Based on higher order principles such as justice and fairness
Moral Development in Context • Limitations of Moral stage theory: • Post-conventional moral reasoning not usually found in adolescents or most adults. • Contextual variability and heterogeneity in adolescents moral thinking. • Parents • Peers • Environment
Identity and Social Development Adolescence is a time of development that affects: Identity Autonomy Sexuality
Identity Development “ “Trying On” different personalities, interests and behaviors is a necessary part of the identity development process
Family and Identity Family has a powerful effect on adolescents’ Basic Values Choices Long Term Goals
Peers and Identity • Adolescents need to belong • Peers provide: • Recognition, advice, encouragement • Sense of belonging and acceptance • Role Models • Values
Autonomy and Identity Developing independence is a central task of adolescence Necessary to becoming self-reliant adults Presence of close, supportive relationships increases likelihood of positive development in this sphere Quest for autonomy can turn into hostility toward figures of authority.
Sexuality Sexual development is a key part of adolescence. Both biologically and socially driven What role should sex play in a teens life? How does sexual development intersect with identity development, risk taking, etc?
Development in Context • Individual context • Neighborhood • School
Disabilities Affecting Normative Adolescent Development • Learning Disabilities • Severe Emotional Disturbance (SED) • Cognitive/Developmental Disabilities • Autism • Intellectual Disabilities
Disabilities Affecting Normative Adolescent Development • Mental Health Disorders • Conduct Disorder or Oppositional Defiant Disorder • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder • Mood Disorders • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder • Substance Abuse and Dependence
Adolescent Development in Context • Contextual approach: • Behavior is a function of characteristics of the person and environment • Does not absolve youth of responsibility • Takes a holistic approach to understanding factors that contribute to youth’s development
Adolescent Development in Context:Families Youth in economically disadvantaged homes more likely experience: Heightened parent-child conflict; Family disorganization Negative experiences in school; and Greater exposure to both acute and chronic stressors.
Adolescent Development in Context:Neighborhood • Institutional Resources • Relationships & Family Ties • Norms/Collective Efficacy
Schools • Impoverished communities more likely to have: • Educator stress • Low academic expectations • Lack of resources • Poor infrastructure • Impaired relations with students
Adolescent Development in Context Exposure to community violence places youth at risk for problems: psychological behavioral academic
Trauma and Victimization • Types of Abuse • Physical • Sexual abuse • Emotional Abuse • Prenatal Drug Exposure • Neglect
Trauma and Victimization • Research links childhood abuse/ neglect and arrest for delinquency. • This link is heavily influenced by the larger context in which a child develops. • Juvenile justice system often ill-equipped to treat early childhood trauma and victimization. • example: Depression is a common reaction to trauma, but often goes undiagnosed as youth’s problem behavior becomes the focus.
Trauma and Victimization How childhood maltreatment places a child at risk for delinquent or criminal behavior: Social learning Lack of attachment and positive relationships Cognitive Deficiencies Cognitive problems from chronic state of high arousal Problem understanding social cues Mental Health problems