Research has found that most human brains take around 25 years to fully develop, and rates of development can differ between individuals
While a lot of the brains general architecture is developed within early childhood, the part of the brain that that is responsible for self-control that helps make good decisions, control risk taking, and delay gratification is still maturing through young adulthood.
During young adulthood, there are three important parts of the brain that are still developing and maturing
Prefrontal cortex: This helps regulate emotions, make long-term plans, assess risk and control impulsive behaviors
Reward systems: This is a group of structures within the brain that get activated by a stimuli that is reinforcing or rewarding (ex. Drugs and alcohol)
Cerebellum: This helps regulate a lot of our motor movements by receiving sensory information and it is also involved in the coordination of our processes of thinking (cognitive processes)
However, even though these parts of the brain are still developing and maturing, it does not mean that young adults are unable to make the right choice or unable to have control over themselves. It just means that they may have to put in a little bit more work than older adults in order to make the right choice, stay focused, and avoid risky behaviors.
A cool thing about the brain is its neuroplasticity. This is the ability for the brain to be able to change and adapt in response to different experiences. The brain is just like the muscles in our body, as it gets used more and more, the stronger it may become. As a parent, caregiver, or grandparent, you can help your young adult exercise their brain and improve impulse control, and their decision making abilities.
How can I help my young adult’s brain get stronger?
Have them take responsibility for themselves
Picking their own classes
Searching/applying for jobs
Planning their own schedules and appointments
Don’t always solve their problems right away
Ask them what they think is appropriate to do
Ask them to identify different options for handling it
If it’s a school problem, you could encourage them to reach out to an advisor/counselor
If it’s a work problem, you could encourage them to schedule a meeting with their boss or another appropriate person
Help encourage goal-setting skills
Help them figure out something they want to focus on achieving in the long term (getting into college, going to a trade school, getting a job, getting a scholarship)
Encouraging a healthy lifestyle
Getting enough sleep at night
Problems young adults face
The harmful use of substances, such as alcohol and drugs, for a non-medical purpose.
Why might a young adult misuse substances?
Drugs and alcohol are used for many different reasons
These substances may be used to have fun, relax, fit in, cope with or escape a problem, dull physical pain or dull emotional pain.
Young adults who are away from home and beginning to live life more on their own may struggle with ways to cope and manage their stress and emotions
It is common for young adults to cope by using drugs and alcohol because they may be scared to ask for help or not know where to go for the help they need
“More than 90% of people with a substance problem began smoking, drinking or using other drugs before the age of 18.” (centeronaddiction.org)