Teens don’t always have the capacity to make good decisions and teens are most at risk when lacking a strong support system and sense of community at home.
Research show that the pre frontal cortex part of brain which allows us to make decisions and evaluate situations does not finish developing until early 20’s putting teens at a completely different developmental level as adults.
” That is why we are not always successful in getting through to teens its simply brain development ” said Dayna Lowinsky ( preferred if real name was not disclosed) Clinical psychologist.
Hard wired for connection
Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs show that “belonging” and “esteem” are basic human needs that are just as important as food and water.
According to clinical psychologist Dayna Lowinski who has been working with at risk teens for over 6 years at risk behavior can occur in any teen regardless of their life situation or financial status.
She says Teens who are likely to be more at-risk are usually those that lack a strong support system at home as well as teens who are not coping well with the different challenges that they are facing, what they are most likely seeking is a connection and searching elsewhere is what may lead to risky behavior.
The importance in having a sense of community
Extra curriculum activities give kids self esteem and a sense of community. Teens who participate in extracurricular activities such as sports are seeking the same connection as a teen that seeks out gang activity. The difference is that need to fit in is being fulfilled by a team instead of a gang. Both are acting as an escape route for that teen to feel like they belong.
” The base of it is that we are hard wired as humans for connection it is one of basic needs like food and water i think all those teens are looking for are ways to escape or numb or find acceptance and fill that void for connection that has always been missing. ” said Dayna Lowinski clinical psychologist.
Gangs may feel like family
Looking at the way gangs are structured it is like a family. Teens that get into that environment are seeking to be understood and have that family connection they may not be getting at home.
“Gangs are structured like a family system they call each other bros and brothers and the head of the gang is kind of like the dad they are mimicking this family system which is what they are probably missing in their own life ” said Dayna Lowinski Clinical Psychologist.
Picture perfect from what perspective?
Nem, who admits being involved in criminal activity as a teen said his need to feel respected and ” not messed with” is what lured him into that lifestyle.
” I was bullied and when I brought a knife to school I saw no one messed with me, then it became about reputation and respect.”
He comes from a very traditional family and his parents are still together he says his home life is what others may consider “picture perfect” but being raised by his grandmother he never felt quite like he had a male figure to teach him the ways of be a man.
” When I was a little kid my dad was always busy working same with my mom, like my grandma raised me it was hard, especially with boys when you don’t have your dad teaching you how to be a man. By the time he had time to be with me I was already doing what I was doing like stealing” said Nem