Risky behavior in teenagers: how to handle it
Looking for new experiences is normal for teenagers, and sometimes it involves thrill-seeking or even risky behavior. If you’re concerned that your child is taking unsafe risks, there are things you can do to help your child stay safe – and ease your own anxiety.
Thrill-seeking and risky behavior: why teenagers do it
It’s normal for teenagers to want new experiences – although it can be stressful for you as a parent.
Teenagers need to explore their own limits and abilities, as well as the boundaries you set. They also need to express themselves as individuals. It’s all part of their path to becoming independent young adults, with their own identities.
Also, the parts of the teenage brain that handles planning and impulse control don’t completely mature until about age 25. This means teenagers are sometimes more likely than adults to make quick decisions without always thinking through the consequences.
And sometimes teenagers make decisions about potentially risky things to fit in with a group.
Common risky behavior
It’s normal for you to feel worried about risky behavior like:
- unprotected sexual activity
- tobacco smoking, alcohol use, and binge-drinking
- illegal substance use
- dangerous driving
- illegal activities like trespassing or vandalism
Keeping your child safe
Knowing that teenagers test limits do not make thrill-seeking and risky behavior any easier to live with. Here are some ideas to help your child think about consequences and stay safer.
Talking about behavior and consequences
Talking about behavior and consequences can help your child learn to work out how much risk is involved in different situations. But be careful it doesn’t come across as a lecture or a ban on the behavior because this could encourage your child to rebel. For example, you might say, ‘There are going to be times when it’s really hard to say no to drugs. But you know how bad they are for your health and other parts of your life. I really hope you can stay strong’.
Working out agreed rules
If you work with your child on rules and consequences for breaking them, your child is more likely to follow the rules. You’ll need to be flexible and adapt the rules as your child grows and shows she’s ready for more responsibility.
Talking about values
Knowing what’s important to your family will help your child develop responsibility and personal values. You can back up family values by being a good role model in things like drinking alcohol, driving and treating other people respectfully.
Knowing who your child is with and where can help you protect your child. For example, when you negotiate rules with your child, a rule might be that your child lets you know where he’s going to be and calls you if plans change.
Staying connected to your child
If you stay connected and build a strong relationship with your child through the teenage years, she’s likely to do better at handling situations like pressure to use drugs or be involved in sexual activity.
Encouraging a wide social network
You probably can’t stop your child from being friends with a particular person or group – but you can give him the chance to make other friends through sport, church, community or family activities. And if you make your child’s friends welcome in your home, it gives you a chance to get to know them.
Helping your child handle peer influence
If your child feels peer influence to fit in, you could help her think of ways to opt out without losing credibility. For example, she could tell her friends that smoking gives her asthma. Or she can’t stay out partying because she has a big game the next day and needs to get some sleep. MORE
L.A. Care’s Family Resource Centers