Why Teens Engage in Risky Behavior And What Parents Can Do About It

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There are a lot of things that teens do that make parents ask, “What were you thinking?” Teens seem to be drawn to risky behavior by nature and it can be quite scary for parents to watch.

Teens don’t always think about the potential negative consequences of their behavior. And even when they do consider those negative consequences, they tend to think, “That couldn’t happen to me.” As a result, they’re more likely to engage in unsafe behavior.

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Teen Brains are Wired Differently From Adults

The teen brain reacts differently to risk and rewards, according to a 2010 study conducted by the University of Texas. This was the first study to identify areas of the brain that respond to rewards in teens and it found that teens experienced a huge surge in dopamine in their brains while waiting for a reward.

This could mean that teens are motivated to seek more positive rewards. Therefore, they’re more willing to take bigger risks. That means that the social reward a teen receives from sneaking out of the house to be with friends might greatly outweigh the punishment that parents hand out. In the end, teens may think that their efforts are worth it, even if they eventually receive negative consequences.

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The Dangers of Risky Behavior

When teens aren’t thinking about the potential negative consequences of their behavior, they may be more willing to experiment with drugs or alcohol or engage in unprotected sex.

They may also struggle to follow rules, like obeying the speed limit, when they have friends cheering them on to go faster.

Teens may be at risk of seeking as many rewards as possible. That may mean gaining approval from peers. They may consider what their peers are doing and grow convinced that everyone else is doing it until they decide to join in.

Unfortunately, the consequences of some risky behaviors can be very serious, or even fatal.

What Parents Can Do

Despite the fact that your teen is likely to engage in some risky behavior at one time or another, it doesn’t mean you have to sit idly and watch it happen. Instead, you can take steps to channel your teen’s risky behavior and reduce the chances of serious consequences. Here are some strategies to help address and reduce risky behavior:

  • Encourage your teen to take healthy risks. For example, encourage your teen to learn how to play a new instrument or join a new club. Trying new things and meeting new people can help satisfy a teen’s need for taking risks in a safe manner.
  • Monitor your teen’s behavior. Stay involved in your teen’s activities. Don’t give your teen more freedom than he’s able to handle. If your teen has too much responsibility too soon he may struggle to remain safe.
  • Role model healthy decision making. When you’re faced with a tough decision, whether it’s changing to a new job or buying a new car, show your teen how to weigh the potential consequences and benefits.
  • Teach your teen problem-solving skills.  It’s important for teens to know how to address risky situations or how to solve problems in a less risky manner.
  • Teach assertiveness skills.  Teens are better prepared to resist peer pressure when they know how to say no or they understand that they have a right to refuse something even when their peers are pressuring them to join in.

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