Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What Were You Thinking?

Most parents of a teenager have asked the question at one time or another, "What were you thinking?"  In a recent study conducted by psychological scientists Laurence Steinberg & Jason Chein of Temple University and Dustin Albert of Duke University, they argue the significant influence peers have over their adolescent friends risky behaviors.  This study shows an increase in risky behaviors by these teenagers when directly observed by their peers. They report greater activation of brain structures, such as the ventral striatum and orbitofrontal cortex, which are involved in evaluating rewards.

If we are to accept the relationship between peer influence and risky behaviors, we must also consider the influence these teens hold over each other based upon the amount of time these teens spend with each other.  By spending large amounts of time with their peers, these scientists claim the feedback may overtime tune the brain's reward system to be more sensitive to the reward value of risky behavior.  They go on to say, "This sensitivity leads teens to focus on the short-term benefits of risky choices over the long-term value of safe alternatives."

Knowing that teenagers will spend a great deal of time with each other, it becomes important to shape that reward system into something positive rather than seeking acceptance through risky behaviors. At Cedar Ridge Academy, we are huge advocates of utilizing the powerful influence of peers in helping our students to achieve a healthier lifestyle.  Our students participate in seven hours of group therapy each week in conjunction to their individual and family therapy sessions.  Group therapy includes specialized small groups to target specific issues appropriate for our current student body.

In a positive milieu environment, such as ours, students are encouraged, supported, and accountable to each other. We use a strong message of..."you have what it takes to be successful, you matter, and we care about you." This environment is ideal for creating a safe, structured, positive peer community where the students feel connected and accepted.  We teach our students about empathy to help them focus on building that positive peer culture while challenging the negative sub-culture that is prevalent in today's society. Utilizing these different tools enable Cedar Ridge students to dismiss typical peer stimuli and apply healthier internal motivators to determine their choice.  By focusing in on long-term benefits derived from choices, our graduates are training their brain's reward system to respond more sensitively to mature, healthy stimuli.


Association for Psychological Science April 2013


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