Brain Science Support for Restorative Justice Programs for Teens

The National institute for Mental Health recently published “The Teen Brain: 7 Things to Know,” which details the “big and important changes […] happening in the brain during adolescence.” According to the article,

Though the brain may be done growing in size [by our late teen years], it does not finish developing and maturing until [our] mid- to late-20s. The front part of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex, is one of the last brain regions to mature. This area is responsible for skills like planning, prioritizing, and controlling impulses. Because these skills are still developing, teens are more likely to engage in risky behaviors without considering the potential results of their decisions.

In addition,

Ongoing changes in the brain, along with physical, emotional, and social changes, can make teens vulnerable to mental health problems….Many mental disorders—such as schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders—can emerge.

The good news is that at no other time in our lives are we more positively impacted by pro-environmental conditions such as pro-social peers, strong adult role models and uses of our time that provide purpose and meaning: “The teen brain has lots of plasticity, which means it can change, adapt, and respond to its environment. Challenging academics or mental activities, exercise, and creative activities can help [their] brain mature and learn.”

The Institute concludes, “Changes in the brain during this important phase of development actually may help protect [teens] against long-term mental disorders.” Restorative justice offers kids the experiences that promote healthy brain maturity. As Frederick Douglass advised, “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken [adults].”

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