Adolescence is a key time of physical, intellectual and emotional change. During this transition young people may become increasingly vulnerable to exploitation.
During adolescence the decision-making areas of the brain undergo development, leading young people to become more responsive to social rewards, impulsivity and risk-taking behaviour. This is intensified by growth in the areas of the brain controlling emotions, which heighten the intensity at which feelings are felt and expressed.
Heightened self-awareness and sensitivity to differences can increase young people’s conformity to peer influences. During this time the importance and social role of the peer group can outstrip that of the family, especially if it offers young people social validation and acceptance.
Peer groups can encourage young people to participate in harmful or exploitative activities, a particular concern if a young person’s home and wider social environment is unable to counteract the influence of the peer group. Under these circumstances young people can become vulnerable to grooming and exploitation by peer groups willing to exploit their desire for inclusion and acceptance.