Monday, June 17, 2013


1.0.0 Introduction The stage of adolescence is one of the most phenomenal, and critical, stage in human development. An adolescent is usually neither a child nor an adult as it is at this stage that physical and emotional transformations begin taking place in their bodies so as to transform them from the phase of childhood to adulthood. Adolescence is divided into three main stages: Early adolescence (from ages 12-14), middle adolescence (ages 15-17) and late adolescence (18-21 years). Adolescents go through a very difficult time in their pursuit of a personal identity and they struggle to understand and internalize a myriad of social and moral principles. As consequence of the identity crises that adolescents undergo, may of them have a tendency to take countless risks. Sunstein (2008, p. 1) claims that adolescents take risks such as unsafe sex, substance use and abuse, taking of drugs, smoking and reckless driving. Rivers et al (2008, p. 107) claim that such adolescent risk taking behaviors cannot be ignored since they often time result in premature demises and living of impaired lives by adolescents. This paper will discuss the development of adolescents as well as adolescent risk taking behaviors. By analyzing investigative studies conducted on the same, the different models of adolescent risk taking behavior that have been forwarded by experts and scholars will also be analyzed in detail. A deliberation will then be made on the appropriate intervention and prevention strategies that may be applied in response adolescent risk taking behavior. At the end of the paper will be a summative conclusion followed by an alphabetical list of the references cited herein. 2.0.0 Adolescent Development As already indicated in the introductory part of this paper the stage of adolescence is characterized by increased rates of growth and development by the young people. This development is usually physical, cognitive, emotional and moral. Physical Development At the onset of adolescence a number of physical transformations occur in the bodies of young people which cause their sexual maturation. The advent and progress of the physical transformations in adolescence is discrepant for different individuals based on their genetic composition, biological influences, nutrition and diet as well as their socio-economic and health statuses. Physical sexual maturity in adolescents is depicted by the development of internal and external sexual organs. For girls breasts bud, hips broaden and the menstruation cycle begins. Physical development in the adolescent stage for boys is characterized by the growth of secondary sexual features for example pubic and body hair, wet dreams and breaking of the voice. Both boys and girls may be distressed by their increased body weight and the appearance of acne; they thus spend extra time on their physical hygiene and appearance as they aim to attain a particular body image. Guardians, parents and significant others in the lives of adolescents must ensure that they maintain effective communication with the adolescents so as to enhance a positive self and body image and shield them from any abusive occurrences. Rather than concentrating on their physical image, the adolescents should also be encouraged to engage themselves in positive sources of self assurance for instance sports, scholarly and artistic accomplishments. Cognitive Development In addition to the physical transformations that occur in their bodies, adolescents also undergo changes in the manner in which they reason, think and comprehend issues. Cognitive development describes the ability of the adolescents to attain a more conscious self regulating and focused mind. More often than not the cognitive development of adolescents tends to be more dramatic than their physical maturation. One day the adolescents may appear very mature and think in clear logical patterns and the next day they demonstrate very abstract thinking patterns. Cognitive development enables the adolescent to engage in mature decision making processes as well as make effective use of imagination, figures of speech and evaluate hypothetical circumstances. At this stage the youth is able to solve problems encountered, set personal goals and plan for their futures. Denny (2007) points out that in early adolescence the young people are characterized by an increased emotional arousability, pursuit of rewards and sensation seeking. Middle adolescence is typified by an increased adolescent susceptibility to risk taking behavior as well as shortcomings in the regulation of behavior and effect. By the time the youth enter the stage of late adolescence, their frontal lobes have already developed and the adolescents possess regulatory competence. As indicated in Figure 1 below, adolescents are perceived as having the inclination to attain higher levels of cognitive development when they interact with peers as opposed to when in isolation. Figure 1 (Denny, 2007) Evidence in the medical field reveals that the process of brain development continues into the stage of adolescence particularly in regard to the parts of the brain tasked with the responsibility of controlling behavior, emotions and the perception and analysis of risk and reward (Denny, 2007). The prefrontal cortex in the adolescent brain undergoes localized pruning particularly on the frontal regions. In addition to this, the prefrontal cortex of the adolescent brain also undergoes continued myelination of nerve fibers and n increase in associations with other brain regions. The cortex and subcortex parts of the brain also increase in performance and the adolescent is able to judge rationally between the likelihood of long term benefits as opposed to short term ones. The diagram below depicts the way in which future orientation increases through adolescence to adulthood, Figure 2 (Denny, 2007) Emotional Development Collins and Steinberg (2006, p. 1003) posit that one of the most important aspects of development during the stage of adolescence is emotional development; this is due to the fact that it encompasses the formation of identity by the adolescents. According to Santrock (2001) emotional development during the stage of adolescence constitutes the establishment of a pragmatic and rational sense of identity by the adolescents as indicated in the manner in which they relate to others around them as well as the manner in which they cope with stress and regulate their emotions. The creation of a sense of identity is an issue that many people struggle with even into adulthood and olds age. As pointed out by Markus and Nurius (1986, p. 954), identity for adolescents refers to the current self image that they have of themselves as well as the persons that they hope to become or have the potential for becoming. In spite of the fact that identity formation neither commences nor has its conclusion in the stage of adolescence, it is in this phase of life that persons possess the cognitive aptitude to discover themselves as the aspects that make them unique to others around them. The sense of identity that characterizes emotional development in adolescence is made up of two main concepts: Self concept and self esteem. Self concept refers to the principles and beliefs that adolescents possess regarding themselves, their different attributes, interests and beliefs. Self esteem, on the other hand, refers to the analysis and evaluation of the adolescent feelings regarding their self concept. According to Zimmerman et al (1997, p. 117) emotional development (self esteem and self concept) during adolescence is a very unique experience for every person. Although self esteem may remain stable and consistent during the stage of adolescence, with time it may transform for the better or worse. Moral Development Moral development is described as the growth or/and expansion in the adolescents’ ethical behavior and sense of principles. Santilli and Hudson (1992, p. 145) claim that the moral development that occurs in adolescence is very closely linked to cognitive development. It is the adolescents’ cognitive development that establishes a foundation for moral honesty, values and pro-social tendencies such as volunteerism of a concern for others in the society. Adults in the adolescents’ lives are vested with the responsibility of ensuring that they support the adolescents’ moral support by being good role models. Through such good role models the adolescents will be able to develop altruistic and caring behavior towards those around them (Santilli and Hudson, 1992, p. 159). 3.0.0 Adolescence Risk Taking Behavior In spite of the fact that risk taking is part of human growth and development, adolescent have a propensity to taking great risks such as unsafe sex, substance abuse and reckless driving. The adolescent stage is characterized by a very high morbidity and mortality rate owing to risky behaviors by adolescents that affect their health and wellbeing. According to Deny (2007, p. 2) adolescents are perceived as having the tendency to behave in a manner that is not only impulsive but also instinctive in the event that they encounter stressful or emotional decisions. Statistics on Risk Taking Behavior Richey (n.d, p. 4) describes the statistics of risk taking behavior as “astonishing”. Statistics conducted in 1997 revealed that an estimated 1,000,000 adolescents develop the practice of cigarette smoking every year; this is very worrying bearing in mind that cigarette smoking is blamed for the death of an estimated 100,000 people annually in the United States of America alone (Richey, n.d, p. 4). Moreover, an estimated 61.4% of students in high school have smoked bhang and 33% of this number smokes it more than twice in a month. Furthermore, an approximated 2.5 million adolescents are infected with a sexually transmitted disease every year as 44% of all high school learners have been sexually active and 20% engaged in casual sex. 32.6% high school children have had unprotected sex and 1,000,000 teen girls become pregnant every year (Richey, n.d, p. 5). Reasons for Risk Taking Behavior Millstein and Halpern-Felsher (2002, p. 11) claim that adolescents engage in risk taking behaviors for a number of reasons; one of the most common is to test and define their persons. Although risk taking activities can be very dangerous, they also have the ability to benefit the adolescents by equipping them with the skills and experience that they need to respond effectively to future challenges. More over, it is through risk taking activities that the adolescents get to discover more about themselves, those around them and their environment. Adolescence may also take risks with the intention of communicating different types of messages to those around them. This is more so when there are a number of issues in the adolescents’ surroundings or circumstances that they do not agree with and they decide to engage in risk taking behaviors so as to demonstrate their resistance or defiance. Rather than sink into depression, adolescent choose to defy the laws, morals and principles that they have been presented with and engage in risk taking activities. 4.0.0 Investigative Studies on Adolescent Risk Taking There are a number of researches that have been carried out by scholars in order to identify the different dynamics that influence risk taking behavior in adolescents. Kotchick et al (1999, p. 93) carried out an investigative study aimed investigating sexual risk taking behaviors in adolescents from single parent families in the United States of America. This study was formulated for purposes of investigating the associations that exist between maternal mind sets on sexuality as well as communication between the adolescents and their mothers and sexual risk taking behavior amongst adolescent. The respondents in this investigative study were a sample of 397 single parent families (headed by mothers) from the Hispanic and Black minority groups in the United States of America. The findings from this investigative study revealed that receptive and open communication process between the single mothers and their adolescent children was very effective in reducing sexual risk taking behavior amongst the adolescent. In addition to this, Kotchick et al (1999, p. 93) reveal that a greater level of adolescent sexual risk taking behavior was reported in adolescents whose mothers also engaged in high sexual risk taking behavior. Byrnes et al (1999, p. 367) carried out a meta-analysis evaluation of 150 investigative studies on adolescent risk taking behavior. The purpose of this meta-analysis was to identify any differences and/or similarities that typify adolescent risk taking behavior between female and male adolescents. This investigative study was coded in respect to the content of the tasks (sexual risk taking or smoking), 5 different age levels of the adolescents and the types of task. The two tasks investigated were self reported risk taking behaviors or those observed in the adolescents by the investigators (Byrnes et al, 1999, p. 93). The findings of this investigative study revealed that there was greater risk taking potential in male adolescents than female ones for both smoking and sexual risk taking behaviors. In addition to this, the gender gap in the tendency towards risky behaviors by adolescent decreased with an increase in the adolescents’ age. 5.0.0 Risk Taking Theories Fuzzy Trace Theory According to Rivers et al (2008, p. 107) one of the most commonly used model to explain risk taking behavior in adolescents is the Fuzzy Trace Theory. This theory incorporates cultural and social dynamics as well as the individual discrepancies that typify impulsivity so as to describe the tendency towards risky judgments and behaviors by children, adolescents and adults. Denny (2007, p. 34) claims that fuzzy trace model of risk taking is founded upon the presupposition that behavior is controlled by “unclear” representations of the life occurrences that people go through. These representations include those of events, objects and people. The presence of multiple depictions of experiences in the mental capacities of the adolescents increases the lack of clarity. Rivers et al (2008, p. 107) claim that this model is very effective in the description of behaviors that not only spontaneous but ‘expert’. The fuzzy trace effect is believed to increase with age, competence and experience. As the adolescents experience increases in their “gist” founded judgments, their tendency towards risk taking behavior declines significantly. Neurobiological Model Another model of adolescent risk taking behavior that has been forwarded by scholars is the neurobiological model. According to Sunsten (2008, p. 2) some scholars such as Laurence Sternberg are convinced that risk taking behaviors in adolescents are a consequence of the manner in which adolescent brains develop. This model describes adolescent risk taking behavior as occurring due to the fact that adolescents experience increased sensation and reward seeking alongside a decline in the ability to self regulate (Sternberg, 2007). As indicated by Spear ( 2000, p. 417) the neurobiological model of adolescent behavior inclines towards the perspective that during puberty adolescents have tendencies of pursuing greater rewards as a consequence the transformations that occur in their brain’s dopaminergic systems; this is usually referred to as System 1 (Sunstein, 2008, p. 2). System 1 is a socio-emotional system that encompasses the nuleus accumbens, superior temporal cortex, amygdale and the media prefrontal cortex part of the brain as well as other parts of the brain that are linked with stimuli recognition as well as decisions regarding attractiveness (Sunstein, 2008, p. 2). System 11 in the neurobiological model of adolescent risk taking behavior describes the adolescents’ cognitive control system which becomes more effective with age so that the adolescent can better regulate their selves and behaviors. According to the neurobiological model of adolescent risk taking behavior forwarded by Sternberg (2007, p. 55), adolescents tend to be more responsive to emotional and social stimuli in comparison to adults and children due to the transformations in neural oxytocin. Sunstein (2002) posits that risk taking behavior in adolescents is more likely to occur in groups than singly. 6.0.0 Prevention of Adolescent Risk Taking Behavior In order to prevent dangerous risk taking tendencies in adolescence it is important for the persons involved to transform the manner in which adolescents perceive risky activities. A majority of adolescents think that risky activities are beneficial strategies. During adolescence the socio-emotional networks of humans suddenly become more forceful while the cognitive control systems gain momentum gradually. Drevets and Raichle (1998, p. 354) claim that risk taking behavior in adolescents is mostly an outcome of the associations characterizing their cognitive control and socio-emotional network. It is very interesting that in spite of the fact that adolescents are fully aware of the risks involved, they still take part in risky behaviors such as unsafe sex and drug abuse. This implies that educating youths on the repercussions of risky behavior is not enough. Rather than exerting a lot of energy, time and resources in making adolescents wiser and less impulsive, it would be more effective to enforce laws banning the sale of alcohol to minors, raise the driving age limit as well as make condoms and contraceptives more accessible to adolescents who might need them. This is because, as indicated by Steinberg (2008), a number of investigative studies have been successful in depicting that increased risk taking in adolescence is inevitable due to being an outcome of normative and biological forces. 7.0.0 Conclusion This paper has discussed in detail the concept of adolescent development and risk taking behavior. Adolescence is a stage of unprecedented growth and development that occurs between the ages of 10 and 20. This stage is characterized by physical, cognitive and moral growth. While physical growth in adolescents is characterized by a maturation of the primary and secondary sexual characteristics, cognitive growth is typified by the development of an assortment of skills and competencies. The concept of adolescent risk taking is one that always attracted great interest amongst scholars and the general public. This paper has not only analyzed a number of credible investigative studies carried out regarding risk taking behavior in adolescents but also deliberated on some of the most commonly referred to theories of risk taking behavior. The interesting fact that has been revealed in this discussion is the fact that adolescents engage in risky behaviors in spite of being fully aware of the risks involved. This implies that educating youths on the repercussions of risky behavior is not enough. This paper has also described the fact that risk taking behaviors by adolescents have both a positive and negative side. Wile the negative side is characterized by premature death because of road accidents, teenage pregnancy and a handicapped life owing to drugs and alcohol use, the positive side of risk taking behavior is that it encourages adolescents to be independent, establish a self identity and develop a better self image of themselves. 8.0.0 References Byrnes, J. P., Miller, D. C. and Schafer, W. D., (1999), “Gender Differences in Risk Taking: A Meta-Analysis”, Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 125, No. 3, pp. 367-383 Collins, W. A and Steinberg, L., (2006), “Adolescent Development in Interpersonal Context: Social, Emotional and Personality Development” in Einsenberg, N., Damon, W., Lerner, R. “Handbook of Child Psychology”, New York: Willey, pp. 1003-1067 Denny, S., (2007), “Adolescent Development and Risk taking in Adolescence”, The Centre for Youth Health Drevets, W. and Raichle, M., (1998), “Reciprocal Suppression of regional Cerebral Blood Flow During Emotional Versus Higher Cognitive Processes: Implications for Interactions between Emotion and Cognition, Cognition and Emotion, Vol. 12, pp. 353-385 Kotchick, B. A., Dorsey, S., Miller, K. S. and Forehand, R., (1999), “Adolescent Sexual Risk- Taking Behavior in Single Parent Ethnic Minority Families”, Journal of Family Psychology, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 93-102 Markus, H. and Nurius, P., (1986), “Possible Selves”, American Psychologist, Vol. 41, pp. 954- 969 Millstein, S. and Halpern-Felsher, B., (2002), “Perceptions of Risk and Vulnerability”, Journal of Adolescent Health, 31S, 10-27 Richey, L., (n.d), “The Relationship between Risk Taking and Adolescent Pubertal Status”, Westminster College, pp. 4-10 Rivers, S. E., Reyna, V. F. and Mills, B., (2008), “Risk Taking Under the Influence: A Fuzzy Trace Theory of Emotion in Adolescence”, US National Library of Medicine Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 107-144 Santilli, N. R. and Hudson, L. M., (1992), “Enhancing Moral Growth: Is Communication the Key?”, Adolescence, No. 27, pp. 145-161 Santrock, J. W., (2001), “Adolescence” (8th Edition), New York: McGraw-Hill Spear, P., (2000), “The Adolescent Brain and Age-Related Behavioral Manifestations”, Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, Vol. 24, pp. 417-463 Steinberg, L., (2008), “A Social Neuroscience Perspective on Adolescence Risk Taking”, US National Library of Medicine Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 78-106 Steinberg, L., (2007), “Risk taking in Adolescence: New Perspectives from Brain and Behavioral Science”, Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 16, pp. 55-59 Sunstein, C. R., (2008), “Adolescent Risk-Taking and Social Meaning: A Commentary”, The Law School, University of Chicago, Working Paper No. 386, pp. 1-10 Sunstein, C. R., (2002), “Risk and Reason”, New York: Oxford University Press Zimmerman, M., Copeland, L., Shope, J. and Dielman, T., (1997), “A Longitudinal Study of Self Esteem: Implications for Adolescent Development”, Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Vol. 26, pp. 117-142