Scientific studies about teenage risk taking confirm what parents have suspected for years. Adolescent brains are prone to thrill seeking. However, the most recent findings also suggest how parents can help their children manage their impulses.
Based on examining teens and young adults in 11 countries, Temple University researchers found that sensation-seeking peaks at about age 19, while self-regulation appears to reach full development at about 24.
While these trends were true worldwide, the related behavior was very different. For example, only 2% of teens in Indonesia drank alcohol in the past month compared to 50% in Argentina.
To change the outcomes, researchers say you have to change the context in which kids grow up. Learn what science says about how to protect your teen from temptation.
Intervening Against Teenage Risk-Taking
- Provide supervision. Teens are more likely to get into trouble when there’s no responsible adult around. Know where your teen is and monitor their activities online.
- Plan ahead. What if someone brings alcohol to a sleepover party or dares others to shoplift? Rehearse common situations before your teen has to make a decision in real time.
- Start early. Encourage delayed gratification while your children are still small. They’ll wind up happier and more responsible. Show them the value of saving part of their allowance or finishing their homework before watching TV.
- Stay busy. Kids who participate in after school activities and other programs are less likely to wind up in trouble. Encourage your child to devote their free time to sports or dance classes.
- Recruit allies. Your kids probably listen to you more than you think. On the other hand, their peers can be persuasive too. Seek out a slightly older relative or neighbor who can provide another perspective.
- Support legislation. Society can help your family stay safe. Advocate for policies that have been proven to reduce death and injury, like graduated systems for driver’s licenses.
Communicating About Teenage Risk-Taking
- Stay calm. It’s natural to feel some anxiety when discussing alcohol, sex, or other safety issues. However, you’ll have a more productive discussion if you can keep your emotions in check.
- Repeat your message. Expect your conversations to be an ongoing process. You might have to repeat yourself 10 times before your words sink in.
- Keep it brief. Your teen may tune you out if you deliver a lengthy lecture. State your point as concisely as possible.
- Discuss consequences. Focus on how your teens’ behavior could affect their future. Once they understand the impact of unplanned pregnancies or car accidents, they’ll be less likely to make unfortunate choices.
- Listen closely. Let your teen know that you’re interested in what they have to say too. Consider their input and respect their opinions even though you make the final decisions. Teens will be more likely to follow house rules when they feel like they’ve had a voice in the process.
- Spend time together. Difficult conversations run smoother when you and your teen have a close and trusting relationship. Important subjects often arise naturally when you’re just hanging out.
- Be a role model. Your actions speak louder than words. You’ll have more credibility if you drink alcohol in moderation and deal with your anger constructively. Ensure you’re setting an example that you’d want your kids to follow.
Biology is a powerful force, but patience and perseverance can help a parent deal with teenage risk-taking. Remember that time is on your side and your child will probably become a more rational adult in the not-too-distant future.