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Getting Teens To Appreciate Risk

Researchers have shown that this is both a physical matter – the "wiring" of the prefrontal cortex is not complete in teens, and a chemical matter – the teen brain features more dopamine than serotonin, and these levels even out only in adulthood. The last functions of the human brain to develop are judgment and restraint – the ability to understand risk and danger, and to avoid perilous situations.

This is a principal reason that teens often regard themselves as immune or invulnerable to life's dangers. Teens are drawn to danger but don't appreciate risk.

It's important to note that this does not mean that all teens are the same and are hopelessly lost in dangerous environments.  Intelligence, personality, experience, and many other factors influence how teens react to dangerous situations.

Still, this relatively new science presents the important question:  How do we get teen drivers to acknowledge and internalize the risks of driving, and to modify their behavior?  Obviously, teens are capable of protecting themselves.  They know not to step off a cliff, to jump into the path of an oncoming train, or to touch a high-voltage wire.  How do we push driving into this category of clearly understood dangers?

In driver education (whether received from a commercial school or parents/guardians), and in materials provided by motor vehicle departments, police, schools, and advocacy groups, two approaches predominate: gruesome videos and photos, and getting teens to understand how bad driving decisions will impact their families, friends, and communities.

Tim Hollister, of Hartford, Connecticut, is the author of Not So Fast: Parenting Your Teen Through The Dangers of Driving,, and "From Reid's Dad,", a national blog for parents of teen drivers.

*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility ( or any 

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