Today's youth a 'powderkeg'

By Claire Trevett

The Prime Minister's chief scientist has suggested the ever-widening gap between the ages at which the body and minds of adolescents mature can create a powderkeg which results in behaviour such as binge drinking.

John Key's scientist Peter Gluckman has released an initial paper on research about youth referring to recent "tragic behaviours" among youth that had led to death or injury, saying such behaviour was a common concern across many Western nations.

Mr Key said he had asked Dr Gluckman to look into the issue of youth behaviour some time ago and it was not related to the deaths of King's College students James Webster, 16, who died after drinking vodka, and Michael Treffers, 15, who died after an incident on the Market Rd overramp.

"[But] I do think it is important that science can play a role in understanding adolescents' development and behaviour and those social issues. If we can use science to give us some answers in that area, that would be positive."

In the paper, Dr Gluckman said the issue was more complex than simple policies such as the drinking age and biological factors had to be considered.

Better health and nutrition meant youth were now maturing at 11 to 13 years on average - about five years earlier than 200 years ago.

However, brains did not mature until between 20 and 30 and, critically, the portion of the brain responsible for impulse control and judgment was the last to mature.

Laid on top of that was increased social interaction through technology via cellphones, the internet and sites such as Twitter.

"These three aspects of development - increased rate of sexual maturation, a slow rate of neural maturation and an increasingly complex social milieu - have the potential to produce a powderkeg during adolescence. As a result acting-out behaviours, such as binge drinking, illicit drug use, unsafe sexual activity and criminal offending, are increasingly likely to occur."

Mr Key said it was not yet known if there would be recommendations for the Government to consider.

- NZ Herald

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