Thanks to Amy Williams for this Guest Blog Post!
How Does the Teenage Brain Impact Online Safety?
When a baby is learning to walk and toddles too close to the stairs, we thank our lucky stars once we catch her in time. Our child having done this is no mystery; her brain isn’t developed yet, meaning she is unable to perceive the danger of the stairs. We protect our babies by installing safety gates because of this.
When an 8-year-old rides his bike over a makeshift ramp and tumbles to the ground, we thank heavens he didn’t hurt himself too badly. We know this whole incident occurred because the youth’s brain isn’t developed yet, and he didn’t understand the potential danger. We protect him by making him wear safety gear.
But when a teenager attempts to access websites that are inappropriate or dangerous, we may wonder why he or she has disobeyed us. Don’t over think things though: the reason the teenager has acted disrespectfully could be as simple as his or her brain isn’t developed yet, and he or she couldn’t fully comprehend the danger.
The human brain doesn’t fully develop until 25 years of age, especially areas that control rational thinking and making proper judgment calls. Until the full development of the brain occurs, the synapses aren’t completely connected, which sometimes leads to making dangerous choices on items ranging from giving in to peer pressure to risking bodily injury to making unsafe choices while using tools like the Internet.
Frontal Lobe Development
The final portion of the human brain to develop is the frontal lobe, which contains the prefrontal cortex. Until this area of the brain fully develops, the teenager is susceptible to impulsive behavior. While the brain is developing, the teenager will be more susceptible to the effects of drugs or alcohol than they would be as an adult.
It’s common for parents to see this behavior manifest itself in a door-slamming mood swing or in a decision by the teenager to engage in a risky action. Life experience has little to do with whether a teenager acts out in these ways. Rather the level of the development of the brain plays a larger role.
Risky Behavior Online and Offline
When you’re thinking about Internet safety for children, it’s easy to forget that the same rules regarding the development of the brain apply. A teenager who makes risky decisions in the physical world is likely to repeat those decisions when in the world of the Internet.
Even a teenager who seems more mature than his or her peers will on occasion engage in risky behavior, on the Internet or off, because the brain is still developing.