From Tina Marconi of BabySitters.net, we have this timely guest post that gives parents a heads-up about adolescent risk-taking and the horrendous consequences.
Taking healthy risks is an essential aspect of childhood development, and is one of the best ways for kids to learn about cause and effect and the consequences that come from their actions. Parents should encourage youngsters to take safe risks when the situation arises.
But there are a host of not-so-healthy risks that come into the picture when little ones grow into teenagers. To adults, it often seems as if teens’ daredevil antics and harebrained schemes are as baffling as they are enraging, but there is a scientific reason behind teens’ risky behavior that boils down to neural chemistry, reward signals and development as they move into adulthood. While dealing with this behavior isn’t easy, parents can make a more concerted effort to curb dangerous impulses by understanding the most common risky behaviors that teenagers adopt.
- Speeding – Whether they’re trying to impress their friends or drunk on the heady prospect of being in control of a car without adult supervision, one of the most common risks that teens take is driving at a high rate of speed. Thankfully, there are devices that will allow you to monitor the speed at which your teen is driving these days.
- Texting and Driving – There is a sense of urgency, especially in social settings, that causes teens to be less than cautious when they’re behind the wheel and an incoming text alert gets their attention. Distracted driving is dangerous driving though, which is why a strict no-texting-and-driving policy should be backed up by apps and parental control software that prevents such risks.
- Experimenting With Drugs – Teenagers are well aware of the risks of experimentation with illicit drugs. Most are raised with the “just say no” attitude, and there are entire school programs dedicated to educating teens on the dangers of drugs. That doesn’t change the fact that curiosity, the desire to rebel and a need to assert an adult level of independence drives many kids to try these substances.
- Binge Drinking – Seasoned adults have a variety of reasons for social drinking, but teenagers have only one goal: to experiment with something they’re not supposed to be using while altering their mood. Alcohol poisoning and bad decisions borne of lowered inhibitions are both very real prospects, however, which is why it’s important for parents to discuss the matter with their teens in real-life, honest ways.
- Truancy – Some teens skip school to avoid bullies or a classroom setting they are struggling in, while others skip simply because they can. From asserting independence to practicing avoidance, skipping school for any reason is still a common and risky situation.
- Vandalism – While older generations took a “kids will be kids” approach to dealing with vandalism, that’s not the case today. Even when it’s meant to be a harmless prank, the destruction of property is something parents must take seriously. You can be assured that law enforcement won’t see this risky behavior as a joke.
- Trespassing – From the thrill of hanging out in a forbidden place to the more practical application of simply finding a place to hang out away from the prying eyes of adults, trespassing is another common risk that teens take. It’s also a crime, which is why parents shouldn’t turn a blind eye to such habits if they’re discovered.
- Having Unprotected Sex – Few parents look forward to having a talk about sex with their kids, but some of the riskiest sexual behavior of teens stems from a lack of understanding and information. Unprotected sex can lead to teen pregnancy and the contracting of sexually-transmitted diseases, which is why parents must have a frank and honest discussion about the importance of using protection.
- Self-Harming – Self-harming behavior like cutting is, according to a 2002 British study, more common among teenage girls. Most parents would never dream that their kids are cutting themselves, but it is common and it is incredibly risky. From cutting deeply and sustaining real injury to contracting an infection through open wounds, this damaging, risky impulse can have very serious consequences.
- Crash Dieting – Spurred on by the media’s fixation on physical perfection paired with the inherent insecurity of adolescence, crash dieting and even eating disorders are a common risk that teens take in a bid to obtain their skewed ideas of physical beauty. Parents should discuss these issues with their teens, even if no signs of eating disorders or problematic relationships with food are present.
In addition to the dangers of drugs and binge-drinking cited above, unlike mature adults – teens risk permanent damage in their prefrontal cortex, the brain area in charge of critical thinking and judgment. The reason is that during adolescence this area is still under development. So just like a mother who is warned not to ingest drugs or alcohol during pregnancy, teen substance use can derail normal brain development and limit their intellectual capacity and future success as an adult.