Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Young Adult Sets Self on Fire: Last Desperate Attempt to Express Himself

Youth riots in Tunisia bring to the world’s attention the danger of boredom and oppression, and the intrepid nature of youth culture to instigate change. The riots, caused by mass youth unemployment, increased in intensity when a young adult fatally set himself on fire – his last desperate attempt to earn an income (selling fruits and vegetables) was apparently thwarted by police, who confiscated his produce and demanded a permit that he did not have (see Associated Press article, link below).

The drastic measures and risk-taking associated with adolescence (albeit extreme in this instance) is to some extent biological – some suggest that the adolescent brain experiences a reduced “reward sensitivity” function, perhaps due to underdeveloped mesolimbic neural circuits, pushing adolescents to seek higher stimulation via risks (Crews, 2007; Spear, 2000); others suggest that an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex in adolescents reduces the brain’s inhibition function, which may lead to risk-taking (Keating, 2004).

Biology aside, these events show us, if nothing else, the importance of youth involvement in society, the economy, politics – this is an age group with dreams and aspirations, and the capacity to strive toward them. They can be powerful advocates for what is just, and the violence interwoven within these protests signifies the lack of legitimate venue by which their voices can be heard and injustices addressed. In the cloud of violence, we mustn’t forget that adolescents are our greatest hope for progress – their opinions need and deserve the channels through which to be heard.

- Susan Rosas, Program Development Intern 

Associated Press. Unrest over unemployment spreads in Tunisia (January 11, 2011).
Crews F., He J., Hodge C. (2007). Adolescent cortical development: A critical period of vulnerability for addiction. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior: Adolescents, drug abuse and mental disorders.Vol.86, Issue 2, February 2007, p.196
Spear (2000). The adolescent brain and age-related behavioral manifestations. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 24(2000) 417-463
Keating D. (2004). Cognitive and brain development. Handbook of adolescent psychology. 2nd ed.; 2004. p 45-84.

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