By Holly Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Communities Digital News
CHERRY HILL, NJ, May 11, 2014 – In my recently-released book, Walking Prey, I address the fact that many parents believe that their children are immune to the tactics of child sex traffickers. Oh, that would never happen to one of my kids, I often hear from parents living in American suburbia. But the truth is that any child can be susceptible. This is because the very nature of being a child is a risk factor as youth often engage in risky and impulsive behavior. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) offers scientific research on why this behavior in adolescents might be biologically-based: they say a human brain does not reach adult maturation until the early 20s. According to their website, brain scans revealed that gray matter (which forms the cortex of the brain) is at its highest volume (i.e. its least efficiency) in adolescence. The cortex is the area of the brain which controls thought and memory processes. As the brain matures, these areas are “pruned” to allow the brain to work more efficiently.
Those areas of the cortex involved in more basic functions (e.g. controlling movement) mature first, while those areas involved with impulse-control and “planning ahead—the hallmarks of adult behavior—are among the last to mature.” NIMH states: “One interpretation of all these findings is that in teens, the parts of the brain involved in emotional responses are fully online, or even more active than in adults, while the parts of the brain involved in keeping emotional, impulsive responses in check are still reaching maturity. Such a changing balance might provide clues to a youthful appetite for novelty, and a tendency to act on impulse—without regard for risk.”