Questioning Price and Elkind on Adolescent Risk, Schools, and Development

Another question set for tonight’s Adolescent Psychology class. The questions are over All Grown Up And No Place to Go, which I already looked at, as well as a new article, The Biology of Risk Taking by Lisa Price. Price’s article originally appeared in the April 2005 edition of Educational Leadership. The article describes Dr. Price as:

Lisa F. Price, M.D., is the Assistant Director of the School Psychiatry Program in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, 55 Fruit St., YAW 6900, Boston, MA 02114. She is also an Instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

And the article’s abstract is:

New findings in adolescent development and neuroscience show that adolescent turmoil results from a complex interplay of body chemistry, brain development, and cognitive growth. Boys who enter puberty at an earlier age can experience higher self-esteem, greater popularity, and some advances in cognitive capabilities, but they may also be more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior. Girls often have more problems associated with earlier entry into puberty and are more likely to engage in such risk-taking behaviors as earlier sexual intercourse. Evidence now suggests that pubertal maturation—rather than hormones—causes adolescents to be dramatic, erratic, intense, and risk-prone.

Neurobiological factors—such as an inability to completely regulate and refrain from certain activities, an absence of fully integrated communication within the brain, and a less developed prefrontal cortex—also limit adolescents’ capacities to inhibit their impulses. Educators can help guide adolescents into healthy adulthood through mentoring, understanding the implications of early onset of puberty, providing a firm and caring classroom structure, and collaborating with peers to problem solve.


Price cites J.M. Tanner’s discovery of progressively earlier age at menarche [first menstruation]:

The clinician J. M. Tanner developed a system for classifying male and female pubertal growth into five stages (Tanner I-V). In the 196<)s, he identified a trend of progressively earlier age at menarche across cultures (1968).

Could an alternative view by an end to an abnormally late age of menarche across cultures? Was would be the historical evidence for this view?

Price discusses research on synaptic pruning, the elimination of references in the brain:

This view of adolescent brain development has undergone a radical shift during the last decade, with the identification of ongoing brain changes throughout adolescence, such as synaptic pruning and myelination. People have Uie mature capacity to consistently control behavior in both low-stress and high-stress environments only after these neurobiological developments are complete. This maturation does not take place until the early 20s.

Synaptic pruning refers to the elimination of connections between neurons in the brain s cortex, or gray matter. In the 1990s, researchers determined that during adolescence, up to 30,000 synapses are eliminated each second (Bourgeois & Rakic, 1993; Rakic. Bourgeois. & Goldman-Rakic, 1994). The removal of these redundant synaptic links increases the computational ability of brain circuits, which, in tum, enhances a function intricately connected to risk taking: the capacity to regulate and rapidly stop activity. Myelination. which refers to the wrapping of glial cell membranes and the axon of neurons, results in increased speed of signal transmission ahmg the axon Luna & Sweeney, 2004). This facilitates more rapid and integrated communication among diverse brain regions. Synaptic pruning and myelination, along with other neurobiological changes, facilitate enhanced cognitive various regions of the brain, and a less developed prefrontal cortex—it is not surprising that adolescents biologically do not have the same capacities as adults to inhibit their impulses in a timely manner.

By their mid-teens, adolescents appear to have achieved many decision-making abilities seen in adults (Steinberg & Cauffnian, 1996). In fact, studies have found that teens can identify’ the same degree of danger in risk activities that capacity as well as behavioral control, also known as executive function.

Does this means that an adult’s Orientation capacity is less intricate than a child’s?

Price mentions scaffolding:

Others have considered teens’ ability to reason well in ‘cool” circumstances but their failure to do so when in “hot’ situations that arouse the emotions. Providing adolescents with sufficient scaffolding, or a good balance of support and autonomy, may be particularly important (Dahl, 2004).

Does this imply that the best way to teach adolescents society’s rule-sets would be through an internship-style experience?

Elkind @ Schools

On ppg 165-166, Elkind criticizes schools for not adapting to “drugs, sex and violence [as] a postmodern phenomenon.” To what extent have schools themselves actively the “postmodern” culture he speaks of — say, by weakening pre-existing rulesets? If a school acts in loco parentis (167) but gives a conflicting rulesets, wouldn’t this naturally increase libertine behavior? (Not just as a function of size, but from rulesets purposefully pushed by schools.)

It’s hard to know what to make of Elkind’s complaints against high school classes in “rock music and surfing.” (175) Is Elkind against relevant literature criticism and physical education? (And is this comment as much of a straw-man as his?)

On 182, Elkind quotes from Horace’s School

The kids place a game with school, making deals with us, striking bargains… They all ought to be ambassadors, Horace thinks, wheeler dealers striking bargains and making treaties

Doesn’t Elkind vastly discount this form of learning? If the world is essentially a complex multi-project-oriented syste, isn’t this exactly the form of bargaining and work students will be expected to perform?

On pages 82-83, Elkind lists three forms of “peer shock:” exclusion, betrayal, and disillusionment. Would mentor-based socialization schemes, rather than peer-based socialization schemes, thus form less peer shock by avoiding the issue all together? Traditionally, has peer- or mentor- based systems been more common?

On page 90, Elkind mentions one benefit of adolescent phone conversation is that it gives a “busy” signal – a sign of popularity – to other potential callers. Is this true? It seems this claim could be empirically tested — would teenagers chat online more in a chat program that only allowed one conversation at a time, or in standard models that allow unlimited simultaneous conversations?

On page 150, Elkind quotes Ellsworth saying “It is not the single parent family per se, but rather, the lack of social support for such families that does the harm.” Do Ellsworth and Elkind thus believe that all aspects of two-parent families can be compensated by “social support”?