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Teens and Planning Ahead: It Takes Time

Researchers Find Risky Choices Tied to Still-Developing Capacity to Think Things Through
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Teens & Planning Ahead: Study continued...

"If you look at the harder problems, they are not performing as well as adults until they are in their early 20s," he says.

When they looked further, they found the older participants in their late teens and early adult years did better on the tests due to their improved impulse control rather than getting smarter.

In other words, they settled down and thought things through before acting.

The findings might  have important implications in legal debates that question whether adolescents should  be held to the same standards of criminal responsibility as adults, he says.

For parents, what's the bottom line? "Just because your son or daughter has reached age 18 or so, it doesn't mean full maturity has kicked in," Steinberg says.

"There is no magic age at which the switch flips over and people turn from adolescents to adults," he says.

"New research shows ongoing maturity into the early 20s," he says.  Steinberg extends this to 25 to reflect this new thinking.

Research is ongoing, he says, to see if the process of developing impulse control can be accelerated.

Teens & Planning Ahead: Perspective

The study findings reflect clinical practice, says Allison Kress, PsyD, a psychologist in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

"Although teenagers may be as intelligent as adults, oftentimes their desire for risk taking and instant gratification dilutes their ability to use forward thinking in situations," she says. She reviewed the findings for WebMD.

Parents can help, she says, by telling their teens how they go about making decisions in their own life.

For teens, she suggests the 20-second rule. "Before making a decision that could impact your life, take a deep breath and think it through for a minimum of 20 seconds. Ask yourself, 'What are the positive and negative consequences of this decision? Is it really worth it in the long run? Is this the kind of person I am and want to be?'"

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