Are You Encouraging Risky Behavior in Your Teen?

It's okay if your teen wants to take a few risks, so long as they're not unhealthy.

Adolescence is a time of tumultuous change. Teens are exploring who they are and who they want to be. They push at boundaries to determine what they’re allowed to do and what they’re capable of doing. This journey often takes them into the realm of risky behavior.

As the parent, should you stop their exploration? If you do, will this hold them back? Will a teen who has never taken a risk be able to function well as an adult? According to research, engaging in risky behavior can actually help an individual survive in dangerous or unstable environments.

If this is true, maybe we should encourage some risk-taking in teens to help them develop coping skills. Other cultures embrace the adolescent nature of risk-taking. In Liberia, youth are assigned the dangerous job of climbing palm trees to harvest nuts and remove dead branches. In Papua New Guinea, older teens hunt wild boar. Teens’ willingness to engage in risky behavior is channeled into chores that help them survive as well as benefit others.

Searching for Healthy Thrills

Man holding sea skating board trying to go for a risky ride Fortunately, you don’t need to send your teen on an African safari to help with this issue. You can, however, recognize their need to push limits and find healthy ways to channel these natural urges. Without a proper outlet, they may turn to illicit drug use, fighting, dangerous driving, binge drinking or other risky behaviors. Instead, direct them toward the following healthy “risk-taking” activities:

  • Sports: This is the most common option, as there is physical risk involved. Teens can push themselves to their limits physically, take on opponents, and learn about healthy competition - all in a relatively safe environment.
  • Academic Teams: Sports aren’t for everyone. For teens not interested in hitting the field or the court, a good solution is non-athletic teams. Schools that have chess teams, debate teams, and science fairs see lower rates of “acting out” among teens. While less physical in nature, these activities provide different types of risk that can still provide a good outlet for teens.
  • Martial Arts: Practicing martial arts offers health benefits, teaches discipline, and provides the challenge some teens need to keep them away from less productive choices. Becoming a black belt might be the ideal solution to help your teen get risky behavior out of their system.
  • Biking/Mountain Biking/Skating: An interest in riding, whether it is on a bike, skateboard, or skates, is often a healthy outlet for teens. As they learn “risky” moves and challenge themselves physically, they are pushing their boundaries in beneficial ways, rather than unhealthy ones.
  • Performances: Does your teen like to be on stage? Musical recitals and theatrical performances are great opportunities for your teen to take on risk, while encouraging talent development.
  • Physical Appearance: If your teen wants to dye their hair blue, this might not be the battle to fight. If they aren’t causing any physical harm, crazy hair and clothing styles can offer safe ways to experiment and take risks.

Some Risks Are Worth Taking

If channeled properly, your teen’s risk-taking behavior can help shape them into a well-adjusted adult. And don’t worry, the draw of danger doesn’t last forever. Typically, thrill-seeking peaks around age 15 or 16, and it tends to subside by early adulthood.

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