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The Teenage Mind and Criminality: The Reasoning Behind Resentencing for Juveniles

The recent decision by the Florida Supreme Court to reevaluate the sentencing guidelines for juveniles charged as adults falls into line with the most recent research into the teenage brain. In the last few decades, with the advancement of technology and psychology, psychologists have been evaluating the brains of adults, teenagers, and children alike, looking to determine if there are traits or indicators within the brain map to suggest that one is more likely than not to be prone to violence. Psychologists were not only looking to utilize this information to spot the red flags in maturing children and teenagers for any violent tendencies, but also to hopefully use the information to head off any violent traits before violent crime occurs by the hands of the person.

The Teenage Brain: The Development of Gray Matter

The research has pointed to the growing acceptance of the concept that while a teenager is aging and maturing, the teenage brain, which is still underdeveloped at the beginning of puberty, is also developing into the adult brain. Research has shown that the teenage brain starts to overproduce gray matter, which is the brain tissue associated with thinking abilities. Most research points to the fact that children are not biologically developed and mature until they are at least 21 or 22 years old.

The Role of Partially Connected Frontal Lobes

Teenage brains are also not fully connected. The frontal lobes are only partially connected to the rest of the brain; the frontal lobe is the part of the brain where forward thinking and appreciation for the consequences of one’s actions takes place. If it is not fully connected, though the teenager can still make the connection between actions and consequences, it is a more arduous process.

Purpose Behind the Research of Teenage Brains

The research has shown that the teenage brain does not fully mature and develop until the individual is in his/her early twenties. Though the purpose of the research is not to absolve teenagers of their bad misconduct or violent tendencies, the real purpose of the research is to provide an explanation for why teenagers are more prone to the effect of external influences.

The teenage brain, because it is underdeveloped, is more likely when confronted with an emotional or stressful, external influence, to act instinctually and impulsively without a full appreciation of the consequences.

The Teenage Brain and the Teenage Behavior

The research regarding the behavior of teenagers shows that violent tendencies generally peak at the age of 16 or 17 years old, and more likely than not, if the teenager has not acted in a violent manner by 19 years of age, he or she most likely will not in the future. Sixteen and 17-year-olds, in addition, compared to their adult counterparts, are more likely to be:

  • Aggressive;
  • Impulsive;
  • Risk takers;
  • Vulnerable to stress and external forces, like peer pressure;
  • Focused on short term gains rather than long-term consequences; and
  • Unable to assess alternative courses of action once they have decided to act.

The Effect of Hormonal and Emotional Changes

Finally it is not only the teenager’s brain that creates an inability to fully assess activity which may lead to criminal culpability; to be sure, the teenager is also being overrun with drastic hormonal changes, thus fueling the fire. Testosterone in boys increases tenfold during puberty; testosterone is correlated heavily with aggression, thus making boys more prone to violence. Couple these hormonal and emotional changes with childhood trauma, and the extent of criminality in these teenagers becomes more understandable.

The Effect of Childhood Trauma and Abuse: The “Cherry” on Top

Childhood trauma and abuse had a significant impact on teenagers who already have their brains and hormones working against them. One study showed that of the teenagers who were on death row (the death penalty for juveniles was abolished in 2005), 74 percent came from a dysfunctional family, 60 percent were neglected or abused, 43 percent were suffering from a psychiatric disorder, and 38 percent grew up and lived in poverty. Clearly nature and nurture have quite the effect on the behavior of juvenile offenders.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

If your child has been involved in a crime, you should speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik immediately. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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