Understanding the role the adolescent brain plays in juvenile offenses

The nature of the young brain can predispose juveniles to violent, impetuous or shortsighted behaviors, which may cause many alleged juvenile crimes.

As any parent raising teenage children in Flagstaff could attest, adolescents think and process emotions differently than adults. Juveniles are often more impulsive, inclined to take risks and blind to potential long-term ramifications of their actions. Unfortunately, these tendencies can lead juveniles to make harmful decisions that they later regret. It's essential for this established pattern to be taken into account when adolescents in Arizona are charged with minor or serious juvenile offenses.

Insights into the juvenile brain

ABC News explains that these behavioral differences arise because different parts of the juvenile brain finish developing at different times. During adolescence, the region of the brain that produces emotional responses is highly developed. The region of the brain that oversees impulse control and reasoning, in contrast, is still growing.

The National Institutes of Health explains that these differences in the juvenile brain can have marked impacts on thinking, emotions and behavior. This is particularly true during the teenage years. Teenagers exhibit the following important differences from adults:

  • Teens may show greater responses to emotional stimuli. This intense reaction may incline teens to make decisions based largely on their emotions.
  • Next to adults, teenagers use different parts of their brains when thinking about emotional content or controlling their impulses. This may explain why teens often act more volatile or uninhibited than adults do.
  • The distinct way that the teenage brain regulates sleep can contribute to sleep deprivation. This, in turn, has been linked to depression, irritability, impulsive behaviors and even delinquency.

All of these factors can make it harder for teenagers to look at situations objectively and make logic-based decisions. Consequently, in the wrong situation, teens may be more likely than adults to act aggressively or engage in sensation-seeking behaviors.

Surprising findings about juvenile recidivism

Many people may think that a person who has allegedly committed even one crime is likely to do so again. However, when the person is an adolescent, research does not support this assertion. According to ABC News, as many as three-quarters of juveniles who are convicted of violent offenses do not commit these offenses again as adults. Instead, they develop stronger control over their emotions and impulses.

Unfortunately, despite the unique factors that can contribute to juvenile offenses, juveniles in Arizona can still be charged as adults for various crimes. For example, juveniles over the age of 15 may be charged as adults for certain violent crimes, sex crimes and repeat felony crimes, such as possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell. It's important for the families of juveniles to appreciate these serious potential outcomes and take steps to make them less likely.

In many cases, juveniles who face potentially life-changing criminal charges may benefit from legal representation. An attorney may be able to help an adolescent work toward securing an outcome that is more reasonable, rehabilitative and likely to support a successful future.