Adolescent Behavior

Elizabeth Scott and Laurence Steinberg are distinguished professors in law and developmental psychology, respectively. These two scholars have combined law and developmental psychology, in order to come up with an inter-disciplinary model of development. The outcome was later published in their book entitled ‘’Rethinking juvenile justice’’. This model is geared towards the utilization of developmental psychology as a science that is designed for creating a firm foundation upon which, laws and policies concerning adolescents are established and implemented.

This development model depicts that there is a huge difference between adolescents and adults in terms of cognitive, psychosocial and identity development. It also states that adolescence is a stage that should be carefully examined, rather than being taken lightly and misunderstood, as it is always done by many.  For this reason, adolescents should not be subjected to the same rules and laws as adults; instead they should be taken care of from the juvenile courts.

The model condemns the punitive approach in dealing with crimes involving adolescents. It suggests that developmental psychology should be highly embraced for it is importance in realizing law abiding children, especially through neurophysiology. The developmental psychology that is neuroscientific by nature makes the children change as they grow up; hence, it eradicates the anti-social behavior and instills conventional wisdom in them. By doing so, it is worth to note that the crimes that are committed by young people will drastically decrease.

The model is supported by extensive research and empirical findings. The development model is aimed at achieving a paradigm shift in the juvenile legal court system, where the more punitive laws and policies are replaced by rehabilitative laws and policies. They will be aimed at changing adolescent behavior and thus, turn them into productive people in the society. This developmental model proposes some interventions that should be followed in order to implement it effectively, as well as the shortcomings that might underlie the juvenile court. The profound reason as to why this court was to be established is to cater to the psychology of the adolescents. 

It is generally argued throughout this development model that, the immaturity and incompetent nature of the adolescents, might be the underlying reasons as to why they commit crimes. Their nature suggests that they may not be in a position to understand the legal proceedings and to make decisions as defendants just as the adults do, therefore, a special court should be created to protect them. And this is why the juvenile court was created. There, adolescents should be rehabilitated, rather than be strongly being condemned.

An Overview of Adolescent Development, Immaturity, and Competence

Adolescent development lies in cognitive development, psychosocial development, and identity development. Cognitive development primarily involves structural changes in the brain that are initiated by various biological processes, which stimulate cognitive growth. Specifically the growth and the development of the frontal lobe that is located in the cerebral cortex. This part of the brain helps in the functioning of the executive functions that include the ability to reason. These changes lead to the improvement of the thinking abilities in five areas, during the adolescent stage. These areas include attention, memory, processing speed, organization, metacognition. Cognitive development helps an adolescent to develop the ability to pay attention to more than one stimulus at the same time, to develop a sharp and long-term memory, to think relatively quickly, to use mnemonic devices to strategize and think effectively, to cultivate the ability to plan and focus ahead and not to concentrate on the immediate satisfaction of their desires

Immaturity in adolescence is a situation where adolescents are not able to entirely control their mental reasoning. They tend to think that they have captured everybody’s attention and that nothing harmful could happen.  They believe they are superior. Besides; they are not in a position to accept some ideas, even if they are true and that is why they keep on questioning almost everything. Due to the immaturity of adolescents, they are not in a position to comprehend complex ideas.

Competence in humans increases as a result of the experience that is gathered through learned knowledge and social interactions. It is enhanced through the skills and the abilities that are both mentally and physically possessed by an individual. Adolescents tend to have a limited amount of experience and capacity; hence, their competence is limited.  It enhances an individual to make correct decisions and to perform tasks perfectly, as required. Some decisions become too hard to be decided on or be raised by the adolescents. Some functions cannot be carried out as expected by the adolescents, due to limited knowledge and experience. This is the main reason as to why adolescents cannot be assigned very hard tasks that are supposed to be performed by the adults. At the same time; adolescents are usually guided by experienced people like parents to make difficult decisions. Adolescents have not fully developed in all the levels of competence, namely: the unconsciously incompetent, consciously incompetent, consciously competent, and unconsciously competent or mastery.

How the Development Model Accounts for Adolescent Development, Immaturity, and Competence

Elizabeth Scott and Laurence Steinberg’s model of development is deeply rooted in the three above mentioned major factors. It is evident that the juvenile laws and policies suggested by the prior two scholars are correlated with adolescent development, immaturity, and competence. The anticipated legislations and policies involving juvenile justice process are inter-disciplinary by nature; basically they function with the help of both law and developmental psychology.

According to the Elizabeth Scott and Lawrence Steinberg’s developmental model, adolescents are less developed, as compared to adults. There is a huge difference in the cognitive, psychosocial and identity development between the adults and adolescents. In the model, it is suggested that adolescents have very limited cognitive capacity, compared to adults who have the ability to logically reason and make decisions. On the other hand, the limited cognitive capacity in adolescents is what makes them not understand the consequences of their behavior. Thus, according to the model, adolescents should be subjected to a different legal system that is not meant to bitterly condemn the crimes they commit, but rather to enhance their cognitive, psychosocial and identity developments, to enhance their ability to make correct decisions and to avoid committing crimes.

Elizabeth Scott and Laurence Steinberg’s model of development also takes into consideration the immaturity aspect of the adolescent when dealing with cases involving the adolescents. The model advocates that those people in the legal system should understand that adolescence is a stage that young people should pass through. The designers and the implementers of the law should acknowledge that sometimes, and in many cases, adolescents commit crimes not because they want to, but rather because they tend to be immature. Scott and Steinberg explain that the psychosocial immaturity of the adolescents creates vulnerability in them that is a result of peer pressure. This aspect makes them not cultivate the ability to control their impulses, and this pushes them closer to risks. They, therefore, tend to look at the immediate rewards of their behavior and forget to identify the long term consequences of their actions, and that is why most adolescents resort to anti-social behavior, like drug abuse. A Juvenile Court that trains the adolescents to be mature is what the two scholars are anticipating in the development model they have put forward.

The development model by Scott and Steinberg also puts into account the issue of competence by adolescents. The model suggests that juveniles are likely not to have the ability to make crucial decisions, as far legal policies and framework are concerned. Because juveniles have very little competency, it becomes difficult for them to defend themselves in the court of law. Factors such as underdeveloped reasoning and cognitive capacities, limited risk assessment skills, inability to emotional impulse control, hinder them from understanding the legal proceedings before them. So many a times, as suggested by this model, juveniles are unfit to be tried in the adult courts, since they are considered to portray intellectual disability and developmental immaturity. Therefore, a juvenile court is established to protect them.

An Analysis that Compares and Contrasts the Role of Intervention that is Played in the Reform, Punitive and Developmental Model

The development model, advocated by Scott and Steinberg, highlights some of the interventions that should be put to reform in the juvenile courts. We will further compare and contrast them by looking at their shortcomings based on the underlying philosophies that form them. Below is a discussion of the suggested interventions that should be put in place to make the model effective in order to reform the juvenile courts.

The first intervention is to implement narrow-range sentences that are proportionate. These narrow-range sentences to be implemented will, to a great extent, promote fairness and discourage possible abuses, due to being bias. The second intervention is to put in place, strict transfer rules. These strict transfer rules will give a particular court an upper hand to keep the juveniles within their jurisdiction in order to reduce the adolescent’s exposure to harm. The third intervention is to create empirically supported programs that should be carried alongside the punitive sanctions. These programs will promote healthy youth development. These developments will reduce the crime cases as the youths will learn how to be productive, rather than committing crimes. The fourth intervention is the conduction of intensive interventions in the lives of young offenders. Hence, this intervention will help in changing the chronic and serious young offenders. Lastly, the dispositional jurisdictions should be extended at a later age. This extension will promote fairness and the appropriateness of punitive sanctions. These are crucial interventions since these interventions will discourage pure punitive approach to the juvenile judicial system. By taking this into account, there will be more understanding about adolescents.

The above mentioned interventions, though seeming to be useful and crucial; they have some short- comings and limitations too. For instance, some of the adolescents have a historical record of committing crimes since they were young children. The anti-social behaviors of these adolescents pose a significant danger to the public. It is very hard to subject such adolescents to the juvenile courts since this will not impact their lives. It may therefore, call for a creation of another court system, specifically designed for them.

The exercise of identifying the affected adolescents and intervening in order to change their lives is a very difficult exercise. It requires a lot of capital, expertise, and personnel. Sometimes the affected youths may fear that they may be victimized or shy off from identifying themselves, for it is very difficult for an adolescent to declare publicly that he or she is a criminal, unless one is caught in the act of committing a crime.

Practically, one type of model designed for the juvenile court cannot yield the intended purposes for all the affected adolescents. There are many individual differences portrayed by different types of youths. Therefore, these individual differences ought to be taken into consideration.

Generally, this type of model needs a lot of time and capital to being implemented. But, most recently, many governments in the world, especially the United States of America, have implemented the juvenile laws and policies. The recent records in the United States of America indicate that there has been a considerable drop in the number of cases involving adolescents in the United States of America. This improvement is because instead of being prosecuted as adults, adolescents are taken to correctional centers where they are trained to become mature and responsible citizens.

This model has attracted some criticism from various individuals who tend to think that the model portrays a lot of leniencies, as far as combating crimes among the adolescents and youths is concerned. These critics argue that, the fact that the juveniles are tried in their own so-called ‘’special courts’’ that protects the juvenile ’’rights’’; it will probably promote a higher number of crimes as the courts tend to be soft. They, therefore, advocate that the adolescent should be dealt with punitively by the full arm of the law just like any other adult. But, despite these criticisms, many people have agreed with what is being portrayed by this development model. The above model of development model is deeply rooted in the philosophical perspectives.

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