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The Developmental Model of Adolescent Behavior


Adolescence is a critical stage yet quite significant in human growth and development. Adolescence is a period through which human beings transform from childhood to adulthood. More often than not, this stage would be marred with conflicting characteristics that cause adolescents to portray images of confusion in terms of their behavior. Some would want to behave like fully grown adults, yet the capacities to be fully responsible for their actions are still very weak. Others may still perpetuate immature behavior, even though their physical and mental stature would have necessitated that they behave much responsibly. This whole confusion associated with adolescent development has triggered much controversy concerning the role of intervening initiatives that seek to reform or punish erroneous adolescent behavior, together with efforts to enhance their smooth transition from childhood to adulthood. There has been a back and forth scenario, especially in the judicial system where determinations of crimes committed by adolescents have been a confounding issue. Whereas some courts would excuse adolescents from the culpability of their harmful behavior on the grounds of their immaturity, some imposed charges depending on the magnitude of the crime regardless of age. This paper provides an in-depth evaluation of the model of development suggested by Scott and Steinberg. In this respect, the paper elucidates how adolescent development, immaturity and competence influence their behavior, as accounted for by the developmental model. Furthermore, the paper provides an examination that compares and contrasts the roles of interventions that are embodied in the reform, punitive and developmental model as well as future prospects.

An Overview of How Adolescent Development, Immaturity, and Competence Play a Role in Adolescent Behavior

Erroneous adolescent behaviors have always warranted some level of tolerance basing on various factors associated with their development, level of maturity and competence. For instance, according to the doctrine of standard criminal law, criminals with confirmed impairment on their decision making aptitude, either due to mental illness or immaturity are less culpable as compared to typical offenders. In fact, if the impairment is severe, their crimes attract total excusal on grounds that thorough thought process to determine the criminal choices in question could have been deficient (Scott & Steinberg, 2008).

However, advocacy has always been raised with regard to mid-adolescents whose cognitive capability rhymes that of adults, to take much responsibility for their criminal offenses, but the underlying fact always has been that unlike adults, adolescents are incapable to adequately utilize their cognitive aptitude to make rational choices. This is because of their feeble life experience and substandard ways of processing of information to guarantee optimal decision making.

Conventionally, the society believes that teenagers are often susceptible to psychosocial and emotional influences, which arouse immature judgment that may lure them into wrong choices. This is the reason why their decisions about involvement in criminal activities are always perceived in a way that is quite different from the adults’ because unlike adults, adolescents lack future orientation (Piquero, Fagan, Mulvey, Steinberg, & Odgers, 2005). Their focus while making choices is always narrowed to short-term gains as opposed to adults who would focus more on long-term gains and consequences of their choices than short live ones.

Studies show that when individuals transform from adolescence to full adulthood, their future orientation becomes intensified such as when they make choices they assign more weight on long-term consequences (Scott & Steinberg, 2008). Similar studies also support the conventional philosophy that teens are more inclined towards peers, hence are more receptive to peer influence than to adults. Their vulnerability to peer pressure is what has commonly forced them to fall prey of pressure to engage in antisocial acts. This trend of peer pressure is said to be heightened between childhoods to mid-adolescence, but gradually declines during the late adolescence as they become more mature and independent in decision making.

In the same breath, the increased propensity in adolescents to peer pressure may be attributed to variation in the capacity of a child for self-direction as a way of coping with the decline in parental influence. Most parents at this stage tend to relax their strictness and total control over their children, as children take advantage even to administer manipulative tactics to win control over their parents. Statistics depict that a high number of teens who display antisocial behavior may be enjoying the outstanding status among their peers simply because they appear disentangled from adult authority (Goldson, 2008).

Apart from that, another psychosocial factor that contributes to immature judgment is the fact that adolescents are less likely to perceive risks than adults would. This may be confirmed from the behavior displayed when teens accomplish their desired missions such as over-speeding when cycling, unsafe illicit sex, excessive drinking, among others. They seem to be oblivious of he possible risks associated with those acts. This carefree attitude of the youth is what drives them to engage in extremely antisocial acts such as robbery, rape and anarchy, which eventually land them into the wrath of the authorities.

Furthermore, the ability of adolescents to evaluate risks and benefits of an action varies from that of adults. This explains why more teenagers are prone to engaging in risky activities than adults (Sherman & Jacobs, 2011). Adults are equipped with adequate knowledge about risk-reward ratio and before they engage in any activity they would first weigh the outcomes. It is alluded by psychologists that the higher the risk-reward ratio, the less likely an individual is to adopt the act and vice versa. For instance, while driving; adolescents may be more inclined to the rewards of over-speeding which include the self thrill of fast driving, early arrival and peer approval, as compared to adults who would view the act as a potential fatal risk. Generally, teens often attach dissimilar value to the rewards provided by risk taking.

How the Developmental Model Accounts for These Factors

Following the susceptibility of adolescents to antisocial behavior and their incapability to meet the threshold of criminal responsibility, various intervening measures were structured to mitigate the blame to a lesser magnitude than that imposed on fully grown adults. Though this entitles criminal adolescents to a friendlier punishment than what a typical offender is entitled to, it denies them the status of innocence and their crimes cannot be excused on grounds of immaturity and incompetence (Wilson & Petersilia, 2011).

The developmental model has, however, attracted ridicule from the political arena where leaders assume that failure to subject young offenders to adult punishment is tantamount to exonerating them from the crime. Nevertheless, the developmental model would hold young offenders accountable, only that it subjects them to the benefit of lenient punitive measures. This variation is based on adolescents’ deficiency in the ability of rational decision-making, heightened vulnerability to peripheral coercion, and the uninformed nature of adolescent character (Hess, Orthmann, & Wright, 2012).

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Besides that, young offenders are presumed less blameworthy than their adult counterparts since most of them may be obliged to perform the unhealthy acts under extreme external pressure from the group members. Unlike adult counterparts who commit calculated crimes individually, adolescents may always commit crimes of greater extent but in groups. According to juvenile law, this warrants lesser punishment than that given to an adult offender. The adult’s capacity to resist coercive circumstances is higher as compared to that of adolescents. Sometimes the youth is compelled to give in to peer pressure to commit crimes with fear of loss of status, isolation, and the possibility of being assaulted physically.

Contrary to adult offenders, the Supreme Court in the US is opposed to imposing of the death penalty on juvenile, as it is unconstitutional. The constitution provides that legal minors are not in any way under whichever circumstances required to leave or be forced to leave their homes, schools and neighborhoods. This provision in itself mitigates the magnitude of punishment to be imposed on adolescent criminal regardless of the extent of their crime. However, the mitigation statuses are lifted forthwith the time teens cross the line to legal adulthood. At this point they are free to distance themselves from social settings hence making it hard for them to avoid taking part in the crime.

In addition to that, the developmental model provides mitigation to young offenders on the grounds of assumption of unformed character. During court proceedings, evidence may be provided to prove that the offense in question would have been as a result of anomalous behavior, but not the product of bad character since at that stage the formation of the real character of a person is always uncertain. Studies show that being felonious in teenage does not mean a person will grow up to be a criminal. For instance, statistics normally reveal that the crime rate is exceedingly high among seventeen-year-old adolescents than in any other age, but this rate declines acutely as they cross the teenage line into adulthood.

Individual identity is normally very volatile among the adolescents and it is very difficult to judge according to character. The majority of them suffer from identity crisis whereby they tend to ape other people’s traits so much that their own true identities are suppressed. The time their individual identities become fully settled, the majority just grows out of their antisocial tendencies. This explains why most adults would reflect on their risky adventures when they were teenagers with vexation and astonishment. In fact, they are always grateful that that never put them into precarious situations.

Finally, it is proven that utilitarian is the most compelling argument for a separate and less punitive system for dealing with young criminals (Hess, Orthmann, & Wright, 2012). Because most of the antisocial youth who have reportedly committed serious crimes are likely to mature out of these tendencies since thhey are naturally not meant to graduate into crime related careers but rather are pushed into crime by co-relational interventions. That is why courts cannot be pressurized to impose lifetime sentences to young offenders but rather they recommend corrective mechanisms of transforming these offenders into more helpful components of the society.

An Analysis that Compares and Contrasts the Role of Interventions that Are Played out in the Reform, Punitive and Developmental Model

The antisocial behavior of adolescents usually attracts various intervention measures in an effort of trying to salvage them from the bad practices. Some of the measures may be harsh while others mild but all aiming at a common intention; to restore sanity and responsiveness among adolescents. For instance, the government agencies would draft tough laws which may scare these young people from perpetrating their heinous acts. They would also administer harsh penalties to those who are found culpable of crime. These measures are applicable and for some they may be viewed to give rise to expected results. However, it is a way of intimidation which may only suppress the urge to perpetration, but is not a sufficient corrective measure. When people are restricted from committing a crime, it does not necessarily mean that bereave them the potential of committing that crime. In fact, the urge may only pile up and may erupt one time when the slightest opportunity emerges. According to the statistic rates of juvenile crimes in the country seem to have fallen tremendously, and hope is exuded that the trend may be perpetuated to bring down the juvenile crime rate to insignificant levels. However, the most sufficient mechanism could have crafted the ways through which young people can portray high sense of responsibility whereby they avoid antisocial behaviors without being policed.

Besides, advocates of stringent policies have also contemplated that their position in which they had characterized young offenders as ‘super predators’, and are now acknowledging that such predictions were misconceived (Hess, Orthmann, &Wright, 2012). The obvious question however is how they measure that crime rate has gone down and by what degree in each of the potential super predator. This is likened to a case where they examine the magnitude of the ailment by merely observing symptoms. The fact that crimes are not witnessed in the society does not insinuate the adolescents have reformed. Unless where research is conducted using the same potential radicals to ascertain their attitude towards criminal acts that they earlier involved in.

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The civil has also been very categorical in protesting against tough punitive measures to be administered on young criminals, terming it against the conventional right of minors who should not to be detained or forced to leave their home environment for whichever reason. The society has woken to the realization that draconian laws and tougher punitive measures may not be sufficient strategies to restore calm and sanity among the adolescents. In any case, that is a reactive response to their antisocial behavior which may only result in an increase in their tribulations than salvaging them from the bondage (Wilson & Petersilia, 2011). However, it is the same society which should be liable for the irresponsible behaviors exhibited by their children. Antisocial behaviors in the society are just the bitter fruits born of erroneous parental skill and environment that children are nurtured in right from the grass root. It is, therefore, hypocritical for the society to blame the government for taking punitive measures against their sons and daughters who accomplish radicalized practices. 

Similar to all the interventions is the common goal of seeing a just and secure society for all humanity and the responsiveness of adolescents in being in charge of their own lives and actions. However, the means adopted to reach that prime goal are quite disagreeable and leave a lot to be desired. In the meantime, the situation remains temporarily mitigated according to reports from government agencies, but whether it is going to last is yet to be substantiated.


Adolescence is a very critical yet an essential stage through which every individual passes. It is a period in which children grapple with numerous developmental changes; physically, emotionally and socially. It is also the time when most of the adolescents are struggling with the most crucial section of their studies; O-Level and A-Level studies. There is no doubt that the concerns of this magnitude can trigger an overwhelming situation that is characterized by confusion in their behavior. It is therefore unfair to use the observable behavior at this stage of adolescence to categorize them according to personalities since their true identities would have not yet fully developed. If all people can strive to understand, accept and journey with adolescents through their tribulations that are brought about by the aforementioned conditions, the stage of adolescence is bound to be a smooth one and free from extreme antisocial behaviors. The society should not sit back and wait for such a time when adolescents would have gone astray, then put tough punitive measures to combat erroneous behavior. The good thing is that erroneous behavior among adolescents is isolated.

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