Susan L Crum, Ph.D. 


Behavioral Medicine,


Tips for Dealing with Adolescent Risk Taking Behaviors

Posted by cfln4646 on October 19, 2013 at 12:05 AM

Tips for Dealing with Adolescent Risk Taking Behaviors


The fact is that all teenagers take risks as a normal part of growing up and maturing. Parents naturally worry about these risk taking behaviors, but, in reality, risk taking is a tool employed to define and develop a youth’s identity. Thus, healthy risk-taking is a valuable experience.


Healthy risk taking behaviors which generally have a positive impact on an adolescent include volunteering, sports such as rock climbing, skiing or zip-lining, artistic endeavors, participation in student government, travel, taking on challenges through organizations such as Civil Air Patrol or Scouts. If your child is seeking risk taking behaviors, direct them towards these types of activities.


Negative risk taking behaviors run the range from unsafe sex to drinking, experimenting with drugs, reckless driving, self-mutilation, eating disorders, theft, and gang activity. Most parents interpret these behaviors as rebellion directed at the parents. When actually they are part of a teen’s attempt to figure out who, to separate from others and to define themselves.


Red flags that parents should watch out for include indications of anxiety or depression which exceed normal teenage moodiness, engaging in illegal activities, and a pattern of negative risk taking behaviors such as smoking, drinking, running away, stealing, self-mutilation, or disordered eating. As a parent, you need to help your child find healthy ways to take risks and define themselves as alternatives to negative risk taking behavior. If your teen appears to take risks regardless of the consequences, take them for a psychological evaluation as they may be struggling with a condition such as ADHD which impedes their impulse control.


Instead of hiding the foolish things you did as a youth. Share them. Let your child know which worked out well and which you learned to avoid. Let them understand that most mistakes are not fatal but they need to consider the consequences of their choices. Then, help them develop strategies for diverting their energy into healthy activities.


It is also important for parent to pay attention to their own risk taking behaviors. If you smoke, it is likely that your teenager will decide this is a safe activity. If you drink to excess, your teen may imitate this behavior. If you engage in illegal activities and haven’t been caught, your teen may assume the same will be true for them. In short, be a good role model. Finally, as the teenage years are a time when your children are attempting to separate from you, this is a good time to ask other positive role models to be more actively involved. This might be a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, a Scout master or a Chrisitan Youth Group Leader. But, remember not to trust anyone blindly with your teenagers development. Stay involved. Know who they are with, what they are doing, and join them as often as reasonable.


Presented as a Community Service by,

Susan L.Crum, Ph.D.

Licensed Psychologist


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