Risky Business: In the Company of Friends, Teens Make Bad Decisions, Study Says

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Teens

risky business

Teens are more likely to engage in risky behavior when they're with their friends. Credit: Getty

Ever wonder why, on their own, teens seem to live up to their intelligence, but put them in the company of their friends, and their IQs plummet, often leading them to make the dumbest decisions imaginable?

It turns out that the equation of teenagers plus friends equals bad decision-making, according to new research on risk taking and the teenage brain, LiveScience.com reports.

Psychologists at Temple University studied brain scans of 40 teens and adults to see if there were differences in brain activity when teens were on their own or when they were with their group of friends, according to LiveScience. The results show peer pressure has a definite effect on the brain, explaining why teens often take more risks and misbehave when friends are watching.

"It is common knowledge that peers influence teenagers to do things they might not do on their own," lead researcher Laurence Steinberg writes on his Psychology Today blog. "But what's important about the study is that we are able to show that the mere presence of peers -- not their direct goading -- affects adolescents' decision-making."

The researchers say the presence of friends heightens the sensitivity to be rewarded in teens because being with friends is so important at that stage of life.

"We know that when one is rewarded by one thing, then other rewards become more salient," Steinberg, a psychology professor at Temple and author of "You and Your Adolescent: The Essential Guide for Ages 10 to 25," tells LiveScience. "Because adolescents find socializing so rewarding, we postulate that being with friends primes the reward system and makes teens pay more attention to the potential payoffs of a risky decision."

For parents, the study's data, published in the journal Developmental Science, reinforces the notion that groups of teenagers need close supervision, The New York Times reports.

"All of us who have very good kids know they've done really dumb things when they've been with their friends," Steinberg tells The Times. "The lesson is that if you have a kid whom you think of as very mature and able to exercise good judgment, based on your observations when he or she is alone or with you, that doesn't necessarily generalize to how he or she will behave in a group of friends without adults around. Parents should be aware of that."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.