Adolescents learn to navigate complex social relationships in the transition to adult status. Developmental neuroscience suggests adolescence as a stage of social reorientation linked to neural remodeling in the circuitry of the ‘social brain’. There is a developing sense of self as well as a heightened sensitivity to social evaluation, particularly from peers, with a greater drive for status and respect. This is accompanied by an increased motivation to spend time with peers and away from the family unit, possibly with evolutionary underpinnings to form independent social attachments distinct from the immediate environment.
In adolescence there is a particular drive to connect and belong and the brain shows more activation in pathways linked to pain when socially ostracised compared to adults. The mere presence of peers primes the reward centres in the adolescent brain and has been linked to increased risk taking compared to adults. This has been associated with negative outcomes (fast driving, binge drinking) but may also offer opportunities for productive, socially positive risk taking, such as in sports contexts, that also honour adolescents' motivations for status, respect and belonging. The amplified reward centres and increased dopamine (linked to motivation and learning) triggered by peer interaction might offer a potential rich learning resource. Sporting environments can be constructed that bring to the foreground positive social behaviours such as empathy and respect for others and further, these positive contributions ignite the same reward pathways as ‘risky’ choices and behaviours.
At IDYOMS we believe that a fuller understanding of the unique potentials of the adolescent brain can enhance coach interventions and set up positive developmental trajectories for adolescents.