When you hear the phrase “teen risk-taking” you may think about behaviors such as using a cell phone while driving, drinking, or driving too fast. This would be a valid conclusion and these behaviors are indeed risky. However there are other behaviors that teens engage in that are even more risky. Behaviors such as drug use, sex, eating disorders, and delinquency. Obviously any type of these behaviors is troublesome and a cause for concern to the parents. Can a parents behavior set the tone for their children? Undoubtedly, yes. I believe that most people will agree that parental involvement, be it positive or negative, has a direct impact on a child.
What exactly is risk? Igra and Irwin define risk as “the chance of loss” (Handbook of Adolescent Health Risk Behavior, 1996, p. 35). The authors go on to say that “adolescents may “learn” to engage in risk-taking behavior from observing their parents’ behavior.” Naturally, there are some instances where a child is raised in a responsible home, with all the love and nurturing that is needed to produce a successful child, but the child still may exhibit behaviors that are contrary to his or her upbringing. This is frustrating, to say the least, so what can a parent do to set up their child for success? In the remainder of this article, I will provide some examples of positive and negative risk-taking and what a parent can do to foster a healthy attitude in their children towards certain behaviors.
It goes without saying that parents should always practice what they preach. It is all too easy for a teen to come back and say “well you did it Mom!” Obviously, there are some things that parents, or adults in general, can do that a adolescent should not. But what I am addressing here is more serious behaviors. For instance, a responsible adult should never engage in risky behaviors in the presence of their children. By this I mean if you do not want your child to drive and text, then you as the parent should refrain from doing so as well. As a parent, it is also vitally important to obey all traffic laws. One small thing I do every time I go to the store is to put the cart back in the designated area. Now my children do it without even giving it a second thought. It just comes naturally. This is also true for wearing a seatbelt; it becomes second nature.
When it comes to the more serious risk-taking behaviors, the parent can play an important role in deterring their child from engaging these behaviors. As mentioned earlier, some of these behaviors include sex, drugs, and self-destructive conduct. To foster a healthy attitude in a teen, the parent must keep communication open. This is not an option, it is a necessity. When parents talk to their kids about sex and drugs, then the child is more apt to trust their parent and understand that the parent trusts the child enough to engage in such conversation. I think that many parents are either afraid of talking to their child or that they underestimate the power that is in such communication. In the end, at the very least, you the parent will know that you have done all you can do to raise your child will the utmost care.
So what is normal teen behavior? What is the difference between healthy and unhealthy risk-taking? First, it is important to understand that teens will test their boundaries. While they are exploring and trying to figure out who they are in the world, they will most likely go against some of what was taught to them by their parents. This is normal. We may not like it, but it is common for a teen to “test the waters” when venturing out. This is precisely why it is so important to “train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it”(Proverbs 22:6). In doing so, the parent instills morals, social obligation, respect, and self-esteem.
The following is a list of healthy and unhealthy risk-taking behavior. Healthy: Physical activities, learning or practicing a creative art, learning to talk about sex and relationships, getting a part-time job, volunteering in the community. Unhealthy: Dangerous dieting, eating disorders, using drugs or alcohol, running away, staying out all night, unprotected sexual activity, shoplifting, gang violence, weapons, bullying (Ponton, 1997). This is just an abbreviated list, as there are many other types of healthy and unhealthy behaviors.
In closing, I would like to encourage parents to take an active role in their child’s life. Sit down with them and really get to know them. What are their dreams? What goals do they have? Where do they see themselves in adulthood? Do not be afraid to ask questions and offer advice. Most importantly, talk to them about risky behavior and its consequences. Encourage them to pursue the things that are important to them. Always, always, take the time to sit and listen to what they have to say. Turning a deaf ear is a sure fire way to cut communication with a child.
On a personal note, my husband and I have made it our practice to be very open with our children. We have had “the talk” with our two oldest daughters and have always included information about drug use. They know they can come to us with anything and that we will listen. Our oldest daughter just graduated high school this week and moved out on her own. Am I scared? Well, yes! But I know that I have taught her strong principles and raised her in a godly home. I have every confidence that in the end she will choose wisely. This is a peace of mind that only comes from two things: God and knowing that I have done all I can to set a good example.
~Handbook of adolescent health risk behavior, Volume 1995.
~Adolescent Risk-Taking (http://www.middleweb.com/adolesrisk.html)
Ponton, L. E, (1997). The Romance of Risk: Why Teenagers Do the Things They Do. Retrieved May 14, 2010, from http://www.middleweb.com/adolesrisk.htmlDiClemente, R. J., Hansen, W. B., Ponton. L. E. (1996). Handbook of adolescent health risk behavior, Volume 1995. Retrieved May 14, 2010, from http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=DoSU8Xo_ahQC&oi=fnd&pg=PA35&dq=risk-taking+teenage+behavior+and+parental+behavior.&ots=4sqo-dGAkM&sig=VBDpFXr0j0zlTienB09pVW8zQSQ#v=onepage&q=risk-taking%20teenage%20behavior%20and%20parental%20behavior.&f=false