Adolescence has been associated with troublesome and uncontrollable behavior for a long time. Back in 350 B.C., Aristotle described young people as “hot-tempered, and quick-tempered, and apt to give way to their anger” (as cited in Steinberg, 2010, p. 222). Although many pieces of research have been conducted that showed an increase in risk-taking among adolescents, there have not been as many that analyzed its relationship with aging and maturation (Steinberg, 2010). Moreover, differences in socioeconomic environments were often dismissed during early youth behavioral studies, assuming that children from high-income families are at lower risk compared to their middle-class and low-income counterparts (Luthar, 2003). Since a significant increase in teen suicide and overall depression rates is seen over the past decades, the issue of adolescence risk-taking and the reasons behind it should be carefully addressed.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) focuses on human health and services, having different departments responsible for distinct social issues, actively taking action to help youth overcome life-challenging and threatening experiences. Since 2007, the organization has surveyed young people to calculate and present the trends in their risk behavior, considering sexual behavior, drug use, violence, and mental health (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2018). This paper focuses on two risk behaviors, suicide and drug use, describes the findings from the CDC, and tries to explain the reasons behind them.
The issue of mental health, especially among teens, has become a major social issue and has started to be addressed widely in recent years. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ([CDC], 2018), the current trend in youth mental well-being is going in the wrong direction with a significant increase in the number of young people feeling continuously helpless, considering suicide, and getting injured in a suicide attempt. The report also emphasizes that these tendencies can result in and are associated with being bullied, using high-risk substances, and having unprotected sex (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2018). In an attempt to unfold the issue, Steinberg (2010) approached risk behavioral tendencies from a neuroscience perspective that connects risk-taking with different brain activity and changes. His study discovered and confirmed that there is a positive relationship between impulsive behavior and maturation (Steinberg, 2010). The study also concluded that reward- and sensation-seeking peaks during mid-adolescence (Steinberg, 2010). This discovery can be tightly related to the state of teen mental health, as Luthar (2003) writes that the developing culture of materialism brings distress instead of commonly believed happiness. Higher expectations and the contemporary pursue of wealth and affluence become a burden on youth and can lead to feelings of continuous sadness and depression. In turn, resulting in suicide planning and ideation increase among adolescent communities.
Deriving from the developing mental health problem, the issue of drug use remains and requires attention. Although the number of young people using high-risk substances and injecting illegal ones is decreasing, work on education and use prevention must continue (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2018). The report also states that “substance use during adolescence is related to a wide variety of negative outcomes, such as STDs, including HIV” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2018, p. 23). Similar to increasing mental health and depression rates, the problem of drug use, such as “cocaine, inhalants, heroin, methamphetamines, hallucinogens, or ecstasy” can be related to the reward-seeking and impulsive behavior among teens (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2018, p. 24; Steinberg, 2010). Luther (2003) also writes that substance use is more common among adolescents from wealthier communities compared to their low-income counterparts. The developing socioeconomic environments affect young populations, both mentally and financially. Steinberg (2010) claims that changes in dopamine that “play a critical role in the brain’s reward circuitry” during adolescence increases the need for external stimulation (p. 217). High-risk substance use, being connected to the unpleasant trend in depression and feeling of helplessness, becomes a short-term solution to the youth’s long-lasting problem (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2018). Moreover, as “Americans have far more luxuries than they had in the 1950s”, the improved state of society’s wealth provides more opportunity for adolescents to access and purchase high-risk substances (Luther, 2003, p. 5). Thus, drug use is tightly related to the need of youth for rewards and acceptance and the problem of mental health. While some teens choose not to engage in such activity protected by their safe environments, others see drugs and suicide as a savior from their toxic families and communities.
Adolescence has always been linked to problematic time and hot-tempered feelings among young people. Even the great philosophers of ancient Greece have addressed this issue. Recent research has shown and confirmed the relationship between adolescence and risk-taking behavior. Such an increase during mid-adolescence is associated with the need for youth for reward and social acceptance, which is fueled by the developing culture of wealth and affluence. Despite the decreasing trend in high-risk substance use and injection, the problem remains and requires careful attention. CDC is an organization that is actively taking action to tackle these social problems. Their biannual research provides great insight into youth risk behavior and acts as a guide for the improvement of education and ensuring a healthy society.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Youth risk behavior survey data summary & trends report 2007-2017 [PDF document]. Web.
Luthar, S. S. (2003). The culture of affluence: Psychological costs of material wealth. Child Development, 74(6), 1581–1593.
Steinberg, L. (2010). A dual systems model of adolescent risk-taking. Developmental Psychobiology, 52(3), 216–224. Web.