Schools can have all the regulatory requirements, programs, disciplinary practices necessary, but yet with teens, once the limbic system is activated, these programs and even disciplinary practices are not a part of their decision making in that moment. Even if a small part is, the teen is often unable to think of consequences but rather survival and strong emotions. The teens "react" rather than "respond", resulting in unintended outcomes and consequences. Regardless of who started what or why, this is unfortunately what happened among several teens at Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington, Delaware, that resulted in the death of a 16-year old sophomore.
As an injury and neuroepidemiologist, as well as a parent, it is sad to see how these teens lives are now changed forever. There is no reason for us adults to allow such behavior. Of course it is difficult especially if adults try to intervene in the moment. What teens need is help through skill building activities way before, so they do not get to this stage of behavior. It seems clear that adults understand the teens behavior, but they seem to lack the reasoning of why they behave this way and the teens difficulty in their inability to stop. It is all to often adults think only if we have stronger discipline and consequences then they will behave differently. In some cases this can work. But again those work when the teen limbic system has not been fully activated during fight-or-flight. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have shown how teens differ from adult developed brains. These studies in the lab have confirmed how a teen will increase risk taking even when they just think their peers can see them.
The teen developing brain is different. It is not that teens are not intelligent. Many teens that I have taught in schools are amazing. Of course they are young, unexperienced, not yet ready to conquer the world, but very knowledgeable and even eager with many interests. Which is something adults need to encourage and nurture. However once the teen becomes emotional there is no more sanity. It is not that they are crazy.
These developmental differences among the teen brain however are further magnified when children and teens have been exposed to child abuse and neglect, intimate partner violence, family dysfunction or even that parent who is just "a little controlling". These all can contribute to negative effects, making the reactions of the emotional brain even more severe. Further, are those teens who have parents and caregivers who model poor, unhealthy and risky coping skills to them.
Adults, educators, administrators, policy makers, all need to consider the development of the teen brain when planning prevention programs and even disciplinary practices. This is why I have studied and applied neuroscience to develop more strategic and effective public health programs. Without this neuroscience based component, teens will continue to act out, misbehave and never learn how to control their emotions. Resulting in another generation of adults who will eventually be in relationships raising children. And yet another generation of acting out behaviors, despite the best intentions of parents/caregivers, educators or policy makers. But such neuroscience based programs are not just helping to reducing emotional and violent behavior but also effective in reducing other risky behaviors observed throughout adolescence such as alcohol and drug use, early sexual behavior and thrill seeking. Overall without applying neuroscience based programs, we are not doing justice to teens. We have the understanding and evidence base neuroscience. So now it is time to develop programs more strategically with the teen brain in mind.
Parents, caregivers, school administrators and educators, and even probation now have programs available that include a neuroscience based approach. Pro Consumer Safety has developed Cognitive-Based Integrative (CBI) Programs to help provide parents and teens with the necessary skills so they can become empowered and have the ability practice healthy behaviors and skills to make positive choices in their life.