Mohannad Halaweh, age 19, is currently being held on $1 million bail. His pattern of risky behavior including stealing, partying, and credit card fraud finally resulted in legal consequences. One comment made on the online news report pointed to the psychological differences between teens and adults:
“Teenagers aren’t as smart as they think… Psychologists will say that their capacity for thought and analysis isn’t fully mature.”
And he’s right. Teens tend to engage in risky and impulsive behavior for a reason. Their brain is still developing, particularly the part of the brain that has to do with logical reasoning. For instance, the grey matter of the brain, which contains most of the brain’s neurons and is known as the thinking part of the brain, is still growing in teens. However, for adults, the brain’s grey matter development is complete. Alongside this is the still developing frontal cortex, which completes its growth during ages 23-26. The frontal cortex performs reasoning, planning, judgment, and impulse control, necessities for being an adult. This might explain a teen’s tendency to make poor decisions and an inability to discern whether a situation is safe. Teens tend to experiment with risky behavior and don’t fully recognize the consequences of their choices.
They are impulsive. An impulse is an urge to act. In the mental health field, it is the tendency to respond quickly, without any sort of thinking about the future or consequences. Some individuals have learned to control their impulses, to feel them, but not give into them.
And this is true for most teens simply because of the growing nature of their brain. However, add to this psychological disorder, such as depression, anxiety, conduct disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and Teen Bipolar Disorder.
Teen Bipolar Disorder, specifically, is a mood disorder, a mental illness experienced by teens, adults, and even children. It’s considered to be a mood disorder because someone with this diagnosis experiences disturbances in mood, ranging from the highest of highs (mania) to the lowest of lows (depression). This disorder is also sometimes referred to as “manic depressive”, which is an older term for the same diagnosis.
Those with Teen Bipolar Disorder may experience impulsivity, especially during their manic episodes. Manic behavior might include increased risky behavior such as sexual activity, grandiose thinking, over spending, high levels of energy, and reduced amounts of sleep.
Teens are in fact more impulsive than children; however, because they typically have more independence, they can make poor decisions and be a danger to themselves or others. They are often at high risk for getting into car accidents, gunshot injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancy, and unintentional doses, and suicide.
It’s true that teens can be more impulsive because of their developing brains. However, the excessive and prolonged presence of impulsivity might indicate a possible mental illness.
News articles haven’t released whether Mohannad Halaweh has a mental illness. However, his impulsivity and lack of logical reasoning is clear, and that might have something to do with his age and his developing brain.
Whether teens are struggling with a mental illness or not, their risky behavior can still land them into deep trouble.
Hicks, J.W. (2005). 50 signs of mental illness: A user-friendly guide to psychiatric symptoms and what you should know about them. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press