Adolescence is really a time of so many changes. And one of those is that teenagers are seeking to identify who they are as an individual. And a part of that process involves risk taking.
So, the first thing we need to realize is that risk taking is normal at that stage. However, risk taking can be positive such as trying out new sports or creative activities. Or they may be negative and these are the ones we see, notice and really worry about.
And these things may be a risk to their health. You know things like using drugs or alcohol, unprotected sex, staying out late at night and thinking “Oh nothing will happen to me,” or maybe even staying out all night.
Although a teenager may have the body of an adult it’s recently been proven that their brain is not fully developed until they’re in their early to mid twenties. I think it’s about the age of twenty-four in most young people.
So, they don’t rationalize what they’re doing. And they have this sense of, this incredible sense of instability with the belief that they won’t die until they’re old.
So, parents need to first need to first of all have a look at their risk taking behaviors. Remember , teenagers are always watching you and imitating you. We have to remember that drugs include things like alcohol. And a lot of parents forget that and that they’re modeling risk taking behavior.
I’ll give you an example. Jared came to me and he was worried when he found out that his son was going off to the park with his friends and drinking alcohol almost every night. They were just sitting in the park and chatting but also drinking alcohol and sometimes coming home intoxicated.
So, after some discussion with Jared in one of our sessions I found out for years that every day when Jared comes home from work his wife gives him a whisky to relax. And that’s how it’s described. I just have a whisky to relax after my long day at work.
So, we had a long hard talk about this. And the next day after work Jared sat with his son and said to him, “Hey I’ve realized that I’ve developed a really, really bad habit. I’m having a drink every day and I’ve decided I’m stopping straight away. I really don’t need to drink to relax and I’ve got myself into this habit”
So, what Jared had done there was he’d shown his son that he wasn’t infallible and that he was able to correct what he was doing. He also showed him “Hey son, I mess up sometimes too but I’m able to look at it and change what I’m doing. I don’t have to just stay on that same pathway.”
So, rather than be judgmental of his son he was able to say, “Learn from me son. Don’t develop a bad habit that may be hard to stop.”
Teenagers are learning from us all the time, learning bad habits and learning good habits. You know teenagers generally look to their parents for advice, modeling and how to assess risks. So, communication’s got to be open and without ordering or judgment. So that teens are going to listen and learn how to assess risks.
Because let’s face it, there are risks in everything we do whether it’s just getting into a car. When I get into my car to drive to work that’s a risk. It’s a risk that I assess just the same as getting into a car with a group of teenagers. That would certainly be a different risk assessment for me.
And what you need to be showing them is that there are a variety of consequences for every risk you take. And some risks are okay because they’re not going to generally result in serious injury to your health.
You know most smoking, drinking and taking drugs takes place in a peer group. So, one of the most important things is that you’re encouraging your kids to bring their friends home so that you can see what they’re doing, and so that you know their friends. This is why it’s so important for your kids to have a good group of friends who are healthy role models.
They also need to have a good level of self-esteem. Because this gives them the confidence that when they are in a situation of peer pressure that they’re able to say NO when they really want to.
However all of these behaviors can escalate and this is when I sometimes get to see “at risk teens”. When unhealthy risk taking falls into a pattern and it’s no longer something that you can work through with open communication in the family you need assistance.
Dangerous teenage risk taking, especially when it’s frequent and it includes a number of behaviors all at once, like drinking, driving recklessly, excessive dieting is a warning sign. Excessive dieting is risk taking behavior or it could be more obvious like self mutilation, stealing. These are often accompanied by depression and falling of grades at school. This is the time that you need to urgently talk to the school, find out what’s happening there. Then see your doctor as soon as possible to discuss your fears. Your doctor will most likely refer your teen to a psychologist.
However, you’ll have serious problems getting them there if you haven’t kept the communication lines open. You need to be able to talk to them in terms of feelings. “You look like you’re feeling really down today.” ” I can see you’re not really happy.”
So, unless you’ve got communication lines open or if you’ve been openly angry with them and judgmental, you will not get them to see a psychologist, not effectively. A lot of kids can go in and see a psychologist and “play the game” and give all the right answers, but to have them really listen and benefit you need to have had open conversation occurring at home.
It’s very distressing because I’ve seen excessive risktaking escalate into suicide. So it’s very important that parents don’t push the kids away at this time. It’s not the time for ordering or issuing out ultimatums. Because if you do you might drive your teen into running away, and therefore you will have no influence at all. You will not be able to help.
Remember it’s better to know what your teens are doing (even though you don’t approve) and be able to talk to them about it and get them help. Its definately not an easy job, being the parent of a teen. The most important rules for you the parent are 1.stay connected with your teen 2.keep the communication lines open 3.ensure that your child knows they are loved 4. that they are appreciated and valued for who they are not what they do or achieve.
It’s a very difficult time. But unfortunately around the world things like teen suicide are realities. Sometimes we don’t see the warning signs and we don’t push them to suicide but we do push them away from us by being judgmental and by the language we use eg. ‘you should have,’ ‘you ought to,’ ‘it’s your fault.’ ‘let me tell you what happened to me.’ Well let me assure you that’s not the way to talk to your teen if you want to remain connected and have open communication.
Using language like, “It sounds like you’re very frustrated” “you know you’re really frustrated by the class change, is that right?” “It’s your choice. What can I do to help you.” “Oh you are so competent. You make me so happy when you…”
So, you can see the difference in the language examples in the last 2 paragraphs!. And believe me straight away you get a different response from your teen!