The development of adolescent impulse control lags sensation-seeking. That’s the bottom line result of Laurence Steinberg’s report from surveys of more than 7000 American 12- to 24-year-olds, as part of the National Longitudinal Study of Youth and Children and Young Adults. Sensation-seeking behaviors peak in the mid teens, with impulse control developing more slowly as frontal lobes mature.
These trends fit nicely with data from longitudinal studies that, after following lives through time, find that most people become more conscientious, stable, agreeable, and self-confident in the years after adolescence. The encouraging message for parents of 15-year-olds: you may be pleasantly surprised at your more self-controlled 25-year-old offspring to come. And for courts, says Steinberg, the brain development and behavioral data together should inform decisions about the criminal sentencing of juveniles.