Teens and Risk Taking | Why do teens take risks?

Teens and risk taking… It’s a part of life; it’s something we face as soon as we’re able to make decisions right through to the end of our lives.

However, not all types of risk are healthy, and it can be concerning as a parent to see your child begin to engage in risky activities that have the potential for physical and emotional harm.

To help you as a parent better understand risk-taking and how to manage negative behaviours, have a read of the following guide outlining what risk is, why teens take risks and how we can support them to make better decisions.

 What is risk?

In general terms, risk is the likelihood and severity of an unfavourable outcome occurring in a potentially threatening or adverse situation.

While risk can take on many forms, there are a few general types of risks that are more enticing to kids and young adults. These can include drinking alcohol and taking drugs, engaging in sexual activity, participating in illegal activities and putting information about themselves online.

Why do teens take risks?

Kids and teens engage in risky behaviours for a number of reasons. If we can work out which of these are at play, then we are better equipped at managing risk.

One of the primary reasons young people participate in risky activities is the thrill that comes with it. Doing something you know you’re not supposed to do can lead to a surge in adrenaline, giving the person a rush of excitement before, during and after taking a risk.

The second reason kids take risks is peer pressure from their peers or friends. At that age, fitting in with a group is seen as highly important, and can lead to making decisions that might not otherwise have been made.

Another reason kids might get involved in risky behaviours is that they’re just not aware of the consequences. Up until the age of around 25, parts of the teenage brain the process and assess risks are still developing. This makes it difficult for some people to comprehend the potential consequences of their actions.

Aside from this, other reasons could include mental health issues, boredom, imitating risky behaviours seen on TV and a lack of respect or understanding of social norms.

Teaching your child about dangerous risks

There are a number of things you can do to support your child to be smarter when it comes to risk.

  • Firstly, try encouraging other exciting activities that don’t have negative impacts. This could include things like sports and travel. This will help to satisfy their need for a thrill while keeping risk factors low.
  • You can also try talking to your child about peer pressure and help them to understand that they don’t need to engage in activities they’re not comfortable with.
  • It may be useful to talk about the rules you have enforced and why it’s so important to follow them. Understanding why a rule is in place can help kids to feel more obliged to follow them.
  • When talking about rules, open a discussion about risk to help them better understand the potential consequences of their actions.

Talking to teens about risk

When we talk about taking risks, it’s helpful to explain it in terms of 3 things. Firstly, what could happen if we take the risk? This is the outcome of risky behaviour. For example, if the behaviour was swimming in the ocean at night, the threats here could be that you might drown, that a shark might attack you or that a riptide could pull you out to sea.

The second thing we need to consider is the severity of these outcomes. In this example, each of the outcomes could lead to serious injury or death. This means that the severity is high.

The third thing to consider is the likelihood of the outcome eventuating. If you’re an excellent swimmer, then maybe the likelihood of drowning wouldn’t be a primary concern. If we look at historical data, the likelihood of being attacked by a shark is also quite low. However, riptides are incredibly powerful and occur all the time, so then the likelihood of being swept out to sea would be quite high.

The benefits of taking reasonable risks

Taking risks isn’t always a bad thing. There are many instances where taking a risk can help you to overcome a challenge or develop a new skill. So long as you’re able to weigh up severity and probably, and whether the reward is worth the risk, some risk-taking should be encouraged.

This kind of reasonable risk-taking is actually quite healthy. It can help to encourage teens to step out of their comfort zone and to improve independent thinking. It can help the development of social skills and the building of self-confidence, and it can also improve self-awareness and safety in other, more dangerous situations.

So long as we can teach our children risk assessment techniques and how to identify harmful types of risk, we can be confident that they will begin to make good choices.

Children who engage in dangerous risks

Teens and risk taking go hand in hand. It’s when these risks are dangerous that it becomes a bigger problem.

At Veteran Mentors’ boot camp for kids, we can help by channelling your child’s energy into activities that are fun and exciting on our 9-day Junior Leader Program.

As well as taking part in reasonable risk, your child will be taught values such as honesty, respect, teamwork and self-worth to help them evolve into happy and functional members of their community.

Find out more info about our next Junior Leader Program.

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