Conventional wisdom tells us that the behavior of teens is at least in part influenced by the behavior of their parents. If teens engage in risk-taking behaviors like drinking, using drugs, fighting, carrying weapons and unprotected sex, their parents’ behavior must have something to do with it, right? Well, maybe. But maybe not.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports that children of alcoholic parents are more like to drink themselves, to be truant from school, to behavior aggressively with other children and to engage in delinquent behaviors such as stealing. FindCounseling.com reports that children that grow up in homes where there is domestic violence are also more likely to have behavior problems and act aggressively. Clearly these children are affected by their parents’ actions.
Children learn behavior from their parents. If parents behave aggressively, children learn to behave aggressively or try to solve problems with violence. If parents drink irresponsibly or use illegal drugs in front of their children, children learn that those things are acceptable. If parents engage in risky behavior instead of teaching their children to take reasonable precautions, children are more likely to engage in risky behavior. Even though younger children learn from their parents too, risk-taking behavior may not become very noticeable until children reach their teen years.
Of course, not all children exposed to poor parental behavior behave that way themselves. Maybe they have other role models or maybe they just have better coping skills. In some cases, children raised in homes where there is alcoholism, domestic violence or other problems react by withdrawing or becoming depressed instead of acting out and taking excessive risks.
Teens may engage in risk-taking behaviors for reasons other than their parents’ behavior. Teens with psychological disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and bipolar disorder may act impulsively and take excessive risks. Teens may also engage in risk-taking behaviors because they lack mature cognitive functioning, something known as working memory. It’s also normal for teens to act without thinking carefully about the consequences sometimes.
However, parental behavior does affect the behavior of their teens and parents can take steps to reduce risk-taking behavior among their children. Parents can model safe and appropriate behavior. They can talk to their teens about the consequences of their behavior and encourage teens to think before they act. Parents should provide adequate supervision of teens to help limit risky behavior. If teens show signs of conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder or bipolar disorder, they need to see a professional for an assessment.
Sources:Laura Duberstein Lindberg, Scott Boggess, Laura Porter and Sean Williams. http://aspe.hhs.gov/health/reports/teenrisk/teenrisktaking.html. Teen Risk-Taking: A Statistical Portrait.American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/children_of_alcoholics. Children of Alcoholics. FindCounseling.com. http://www.findcounseling.com/journal/domestic-violence/domestic-violence-children.html. Effects of Domestic Violence on Children and Teenagers.Science Daily. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100503074237.htm. No Simple Explanation for Why Adolescents Take Risks.