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 is all part of their journey to becoming independent young adults, with their individual identities.
Unfortunately, some risk taking can be detrimental to your teen’s life including, but not limited to, using drugs, sexting, drinking and driving, or having unprotected sex.
Understanding the teenage brain is a good way to learn to be able to help your teen better. Read this article to understand the psychology of a teen brain: Why are teen brains designed for risk-taking?
While teens may be more likely to exhibit this type of behavior–especially as they start to feel the reward of recognition from their peers–these tips might help you handle your teen and their actions in a productive manner:
1. Understand the role you play in your teen’s life
You are not supposed to be your teen’s best friend. That day may come in the future, your job now is to parent them and that is not always easy.
2. Let your teenager know you love them and stay connected to them
Probably the most important thing to consider when your teen is taking risks is that they still need your love. They may not act like they need your love but that may be the one thing they need the most.
Also, if you stay connected and build a strong relationship with your child through the teenage years, they will more likely do better at handling situations like pressure to use drugs or be involved in sexual activity.
3. Talk about core family values
Share your own values with your teen and ask teens about theirs.
4. Keep the lines of communication open
No matter how much you may want to send them to military camp or to visit a long-lost relative, it is important to keep talking to them on a daily basis. Ask them questions that will elicit a response and listen to what they have to say. Let them know you are available to talk if they need you.
5. Set boundaries and limits
Set boundaries and limits then discuss possible consequences for breaking them. Your teen may balk at these, but they really do want and need them. Help them understand that the limits are being given to protect them, not control them.
Work 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 will need to be flexible and adapt the rules as your child grows and shows they are ready for more responsibility.
Be careful it doesn’t come across as a lecture or a ban on the behaviour, because this could encourage your child to rebel. For example, you might say, ‘There may be times when it is really hard to say no to drugs. However, you know how bad they are for your health and other parts of your life. I really hope you will stay strong’.
6. Encourage them to find positive ways to handle stress
It is common for teens to face some pressure and anxiety with changes in their body, relationships, possible work, and school. Help them to learn to handle stress by modeling positive ways to them. Some ways to do this could be:
- Exercise and eat regularly.
- Get enough sleep and have a good sleep routine.
- Avoid excess caffeine which can increase feelings of anxiety and agitation.
- Learn relaxation exercises (abdominal breathing and muscle relaxation techniques).
- Decrease negative self-talk: challenge negative thoughts – with alternative, neutral, or positive thoughts. “My life will never get better” can be transformed into “I may feel hopeless now, however, I am not my circumstance and my life will get better if I work at it and get some help.”
7. Pay attention to what your teens are doing
Ask your teen to let you know where they’re going, who they’ll be with, and to call in if their plans change.
Know their friends so you are aware of the influence they may have over your teen. Verify parties they might attend will be supervised. Asking them to check in with you and checking up on them helps your teen know you care and you are concerned about their health and well-being.
8. Help your teen learn how to think through decisions
Model good decision-making skills. Help your teen think about how his or her decisions could affect not only themselves but others, in the short-term and long-term.
9. Know the issues your teen may face and the red flags associated with them
Depression, problems at school, change in personality, change of eating habits, changes in grades, anger, staying out until all hours, lying to you, or hurting themselves. These are common ways your teen may inadvertently alert you to problems.
10. Encourage your teen’s interests and positive risk-taking activities
If they are looking for thrills, support them to take on hobbies or engage in activities, like:
- Sports: rock-climbing, mountain biking, martial arts, competitive team sport like basketball or football, or performance sports like dance or gymnastics.
- Arts: joining the school play or band.
- Volunteering: getting involved in a social or political cause, running for a school committee
- Education: getting involved in a maths or spelling competition
When this kind of risk taking occurs in a healthy, supervised, and supportive atmosphere, it can help teens build confidence. It can also help them learn to trust their own judgment and how to deal with disappointment and frustration.
11. Help them find ways to say no to peer pressure
Check out this video – Creative ways to say no to peer pressure
12. Encourage a wide social network
You probably can’t stop your child from being friends with a particular person or group, however, you can give them the chance to make other friends such as through sports, community or family activities. Also, if you make your child’s friends welcome in your home, it gives you a chance to get to know them better!
Teens will continue to have brain growth until they reach about twenty-five years of age. During this time, it’s not unlikely teens will make some poor decisions. They may even take unhealthy risks until they reach that age. By following these eight tips for parents of risk-taking teenagers, you may be able to help them make better, less risky choices.