Taking some risks is an important part of growing up. Without striking out and taking a chance we would be unlikely to leave our houses, let alone do all the things which busy adults do.
Changes in teenagers’ brains make it hard for them to think about consequences or what might happen in the future. They are also hugely driven by peer approval which is why teenagers can so often make things worse by egging each other on in risky situations.
It’s impossible for you to stop your child from taking some risks. You can help your teenager think through what could happen if they do something dangerous. Helping them to make good decisions and choices is a parent’s life’s work. As is being there to help pick up the pieces when something doesn’t go to plan.
Some of the most common risk-taking behaviours that parents see teenagers trying out include:
- using alcohol, cigarettes or drugs
- becoming sexually active and exploring their sexuality
- getting themselves into unsafe situations, or mixing with the ‘wrong crowd’
- driving dangerously (or other activities which push against the limits of their control).
ASH Scotland have a useful guide to help parents and carers talk to teens about smoking, supported by Children 1st Parentline.
Things to try
Good techniques to remember when faced with risk-taking behaviour are:
- Talking and listening is the most important thing. If you can keep openness and trust, your teenager will come to you for help in even the most serious situations. Talking through what’s happened step by step will help them to understand how they could do things differently at different stages.
- Praise them when they make good decisions, and talk through the consequences of different choices.
- Remember the mistakes you made yourself as a teenager before you go overboard. Being open about these – and what you learned – might even show your child that you know what you’re talking about!
- Make sure your child is safe first of all, and address anything that might affect their mental or physical health.
- Enforce consequences consistently – e.g. if you have said coming home late means they will be grounded then you must follow through.
- Try and negotiate – e.g. “If you text me at 10 to let me know you’re ok and when you’ll be home, I won’t be calling you every 5 minutes.”
- Try not to be shocked, but do say if you are disappointed.
Try not to be overprotective. It is a natural instinct for parents, but is likely to backfire as your child might come to resent you trying to ‘control’ them and they might not tell you what they’re up to!