As children become adolescents it is not uncommon for their emotions, attitudes and behavior to change often dramatically. For parents and teens alike the transition to adolescence can be stressful at the least and for some teens it can mark a time of risk taking behavior which tests parental relationships as well as threatens their lives. However, many parents are unaware of their teens high risk behavior or, if they are aware they do not know how to address it. Some parents blame themselves, other parents may choose to avoid or deny their teens risk taking behavior, yet most parents are willing to change their own behavior in order to change the behavior of their teen.
Risk taking behaviors among teens range from smoking, school delinquency and sexual activity to alcohol use, substance abuse, criminal and violent behavior. Statistically teen risk taking behavior is as follows:
• 11% do not wear seat belts
• 20% use tobacco
• 47% have been sexually active
• 14% have had four or more sexual partners
• 75% have at least tried alcohol once
• 38% of teens have tried marijuana
• 7% have tried cocaine at least once
• 35% have been in a physical altercation.
• 18% have carried a weapon
• 14% have considered suicide
• 7% attempted suicide
Predictors of Teen Risk-taking Behavior
Research indicates that the teens and their behavior are influenced by their environment. The behavior of people around them (especially parents or caretakers), the events taking place in their social environment and the activities in which the teens participate can and often do predict the likelihood of risk taking behavior in teens. Some of those predictors are related to:
• Academic behavior: Teen may exhibit a lowered interest in school and a drastic drop in grades/
• Peer groups: Teens that have a difficult time engaging with peers have a higher likelihood of risk taking behavior.
• Friendships: If the teen’s friends participate in risk taking behavior it is very likely the teen will also.
• Content of music, video games and movies: The media content viewed by teens influences the risk taking behavior of teens.
• The status of parent relationships: Teens whose parents experience divorce engage in more risk taking behavior.
• Family History: Teens from families with a history of alcohol or drug abuse are at risk.
• Mental health: Teens who struggle with depression or other mental or emotional disorders are at risk.
• Feelings of self worth: Teens who exhibit low self esteem or self belief are at risk.
Parental Behavior that Protects Against Teen Risk Taking Behavior
Experts have identified several different types of parenting styles and the behaviors associated with those. The parenting type most strongly associated with well developed and successful teens is known as the authoritative parenting style. An authoritative parent has a high level of control over their teen’s behavior in a warm supportive way. Some of the behaviors related to this parenting style are:
• Parents are aware of their teen’s whereabouts, the content of media their teens view and hear as well as the behavior of their teen’s friends.
• Parents participate in religious or spiritual practices
• Parents have high expectations for their teen’s behavior.
• Parents have well established rules and consistent consequences.
• Parents support teen’s interest in academics or extracurricular activities.
• Parents have a physical presence at home and at teen activities.
• Parents cultivate warm open communication with their teen.
Most teens do not participate in all of the risk taking behavior identified here, however most will have the opportunity to participate in at least one and probably many of these behaviors. Parents can protect their teens and they can turn the tide of risk taking behaviors by changing their own behavior. If needed parents should seek help from resources located in their community.
Kristin Kenneavy: A Scrambled Signal? The Relationship between Adolescent Risk Behaviors and Restrictive parental Mediation.
Leslie Gordon Simons, Ronald L. Simons & Rand. D. Conger: Intergenerational Transmission of Religiosity and Adolescent Conduct Problems Specifying the Mediating Mechanisms.
Denise L. Haynie, Kenneth H. Beck, Aria Davis Crump, Teresa Shattuck & Bruce Simons-Morton: Parenting Strategies Regarding Teen Behavior: Parent and Teen Perceptions. American Journal of Health Behavior, Vol 23 (6), Nov-Dec 1999. Pp. 403-414.
Elizabeth Aries: Adolescent Behavior: Readings & Interpretations. McGraw-Hill/Dushkin