Teen brains unable to reason like adult brains, research shows

In July, a Minneapolis father boarded a city bus with the intention of confronting teenagers who allegedly had been bullying his son. According to My Fox Twin Cities, the man engaged in an argument with the teens. The bus driver told law enforcement that one of the youths, a 16-year-old, pulled out a gun. The father exited the bus and tried to run away, but the teenager fired a series of shots, eventually striking and killing the man. The youth faces criminal charges of second-degree murder.

Prosecutors say they intend to try the 16-year-old to the fullest extent and have filed a motion to certify him as an adult in the case. However, as research indicates, teenage minds operate differently from adults’.

Acting on impulse

According to the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, teenagers differ from adults when it comes to making decisions, solving problems and other general behavior. As people age, their brains mature at different rates. The frontal cortex is the part of the brain that enables people to think before they act. This area develops later in adolescence and continues to change well into adulthood. Therefore, a teenage mind relies on the amygdala, which guides decision-making through instincts specifically related to fear and aggression.

While teenagers may know right from wrong, their brains will instinctively predispose them to commit juvenile actions such as the following:

  • Getting into fights
  • Having accidents of all types
  • Acting on impulse
  • Misinterpreting emotions and social cues
  • Engaging in risky behavior

Conversely, adolescents will be less likely to think about the consequences of their actions and modify any potentially dangerous behavior. The AACAP suggests that understanding these differences may help policymakers, teachers and others manage and correct certain behaviors.

Consequences of adult and juvenile crime

In Minnesota, anyone younger than 18 is considered a juvenile. When youths commit crimes, they typically go through court procedures separate from adult proceedings. According to the Minnesota Judicial Branch, juveniles between 14 and 17 years old may be certified as an adult if they meet certain criteria. A juvenile tried as an adult and found guilty of second-degree murder in Minnesota may serve as much as 40 years in prison. A youth tried in juvenile court could face far less severe penalties and be placed in a program that aims to rehabilitate the youth instead of sending them to an adult prison. Judges in juvenile court have more flexibility when handing down sentences, which could include counseling and curfew. A person with a juvenile conviction may also have an easier time sealing court records, providing a smoother path toward securing employment down the road.

He has won jury trial cases in misdemeanor and felony cases and in DWI’s and non-DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. He is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

What to Do If You Have Been Charged with a Criminal Offense

People facing criminal charges in Minnesota often ask, “Can you defend yourself in court?” You can represent yourself in court when charged with a crime. Self-representation, however, is not typically in the accused's best interests, even if courts allow it.
Parents whose children have been arrested or accused of committing a heinous crime might wonder, “Can a minor be charged with a felony?” A minor aged 14 years or older but below 18 years may face felony charges in Minnesota.
People accused of or under investigation for assault might ask, “What are the charges for assault?” Minnesota has five levels of assault charges. First-degree assault is the most serious offense, and a conviction often results in the most severe penalties, like long prison time and hefty fines.