We think our teen knows better, and then he or she does something stupid on a night out with friends. Can’t we all relate? Now, a new study sheds light on WHY teens take more risks in groups. According to psychologist Jason Chein, “If the presence of friends had been simply a distraction to the participant, then we would have seen an impact on the brain’s executive function. But that is not what we have found.” Instead, says Chein, “The presence of peers does not impact the evaluation of the risk but rather heightens sensitivity in the brain to the potential upside of a risky decision.” Fellow researcher, Laurence Steinberg further speculates: “Because adolescents find socializing so rewarding, we postulate that being with friends primes the reward system and makes teens pay more attention to the potential pay offs of a risky decision.”
The researchers don’t take the next step of proposing a solution to the problem of teen risk-taking, but a logical antidote may be for parents to be the constant voice of common sense. Regular discussions about how to make healthy, smart decisions can help ground teens, so that when the sirens of teen group-think come calling, the risks ultimately weigh heavier in the balances than the rewards.