Among other choices, those related to eating, drinking alcohol, sexuality, and peer group selection are some of the most important. In some respects, those decisions have a lot to do with the way that adolescent brains perceive, process, and react to external circumstances and experiences. The development of eating disorders is one example (Leon, Fulkerson, Perry, & Cudeck, 1993). Specifically, there is empirical cross-sectional data illustrating that specific teenage perception and interpretations of self-image (especially body-image) correspond to eating disorders. That valuable information provides a good strategy for identifying teens at greatest risk of developing eating disorders without knowing anything about their actual eating habits (Leon, Fulkerson, Perry, & Cudeck, 1993).

Adolescents value their peer group associations more than the approval of society more generally. They are also much less receptive to absolutes such as firm “all-or-none” rules prohibiting them from drinking any alcohol or requiring absolute sexual abstinence. Generally, lessons from adults are more likely to produce desired changes in self-responsibility and good choices when they recognize variations of conduct and degrees of self — control rather than strict inflexible rules.

For example, most teens and young adults are more receptive to messages distinguishing benign responsible alcohol consumption from excessive and addictive consumption or immoral circumstances involving alcohol such as drunk driving. They are also more receptive to and more likely to comply with advice about safer sex and responsible sexuality than to firm rule strictly prohibiting any sexual expression. While some adolescents might reject both types of messages or advice, significantly more would likely be receptive to moderate advice than to “all-or-none” rules that do not recognize more subtle distinctions of behavior and choices.


Gloria R. Leon, Jayne a. Fulkerson, Cheryl L. Perry, and Robert Cudeck. “Personality

and Behavioral Vulnerabilities Associated With Risk Status for Eating Disorders in Adolescent Girls.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology,.

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