In order to qualify for a credit card, a person must be at least 18 years of age without an adult co-signer. Despite this age requirement, many young adults find themselves buried in debt as a result of irresponsible credit card use. Perhaps this irresponsibility is connected to the development of a teenager’s brain, specifically within the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex doesn’t reach full maturation until the mid twenties. Why would the lack of a fully developed brain influence a teenager’s ability to responsibly manage a credit card, you may ask? Read on for details about brain development, the prefrontal cortex, and why an age change on credit cards should be considered.
How the Brain Develops
The brain grows at an amazing rate. In fact, there are times of development when 250,000 neurons are added to the brain every minute. By age two, the brain is already 80 percent of adult size. When looking at a fetus, by the seventh week of brain development, three major brain areas have formed: the forebrain, midbrain, and hindbrain. At week seven, these three areas split again, leading to the development of other areas of the brain. The brain consists of the frontal lobe, occipital lobe, temporal lobe, parietal lobe, primarily sensory cortex, primary motor cortex, cerebellum, and the brain stem. The majority of these lobes reach full development rapidly: within the first six years of life, the brain has reached 90 percent of adult volume. However, parts of the brain take until the age of 25 to develop.
The Prefrontal Cortex
The prefrontal cortex is part of the frontal lobe of the brain, situated just behind the forehead, and it is the last part of the brain to reach full development. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for the planning of complex cognitive behavior, such as personality, expression, working memory, social behavior, decision making, and judgment. This part of the brain also regulates problem solving, control of purposeful behaviors, and consciousness. It’s not surprising that adults often look at teenagers and wonder, “What are they thinking?!!” after a rash move has been made. But it’s not necessarily the youths’ fault; their brains simply haven’t developed the ability to think rationally. For, as the prefrontal cortex develops, teenagers and young adults gain the ability to reason better, control impulses, and make better judgments.
Application of Logic
Applying logic may be something that young adults can’t quite do, but those with a fully developed brain can. We’ve just learned that the part of the brain that controls impulses and rational thought doesn’t reach full development until later teen to young adult years. Nonetheless, a teenager aged 18 can still apply for and use a credit card, potentially racking up tremendous amounts of debt. Just as there are policies and laws in place in many countries restricting youth from driving a car until age 21, or drinking an alcoholic beverage (which can harm an underdeveloped brain), perhaps there should be restrictions on 18-year-olds applying for and using credit cards. It is not far-fetched to assume that a person with a more developed brain could make wiser decisions regarding credit card usage and spending than a person with an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex. Is it necessarily fair to hold teenagers responsible for debt they’ve accrued, if it’s known that the part of the brain that controls the ability to think logically about that debt hasn’t yet developed? It’s an interesting idea, one that could possibly result in less debt. What do you think?
Marcus Bentley is a freelance writer based in Tucson, Arizona who focuses on personal finance, wealth management, investment advice, credit ratings, accounting principles, saving techniques, budget strategies and other relevant topics. Those interested in possibly joining the financial world should view the accounting jobs with moneyjobs.com.
Image credit goes to liewcf.