– Allan, 17
It has been said a thousand times: the biggest reason kids drink and drive, take drugs and do all kinds of crazy, dangerous stunts is that they think they’re immortal, invincible and bullet-proof. But is this what teenagers really think?
“It’s a sense of freedom, I guess,” says Allan, 17.
Allan is a self-proclaimed risk-taker.
“I just like to see how far I can go and what I can do and what I can accomplish out[side] of the everyday norm,” says Allan.
Risky behaviors can include rock-climbing, skydiving, street racing and even unprotected sex. It’s often said that teenagers feel invincible – but do they really feel this way? Researchers at UC San Francisco say no. In fact, they found that teenagers actually overestimate the danger of certain activities. And, while they know there are risks, they think the benefits and the fun are worth it.
“[Teenagers] are — compared to an adult — relatively uninformed. And if they are a novice and inexperienced with alcohol, drugs or sex, or any of those things — as everyone is in the beginning — they don’t know what to expect. Very often they don’t fully understand the complete nature of the risks they’re taking,” says Jeffrey Rothweiler, Ph.D., clinical psychologist.
“It might be that because the frontal lobes are not yet fully developed during adolescence that they’re more likely to make decisions, that they don’t fully think through the consequences of their actions,” says Elizabeth Sowell, Ph.D., neuroscientist. The prefrontal cortex matures the most between the ages of 12 and 20.
Allan knows there is a potential for injury with some of the risky actions he takes.
“I guess death is a factor, or getting paralyzed or … hitting the ground while you’re climbing. But you just try not to think about it, keep a positive attitude,” says Allan.
But in his mind, the benefits are worth it.
“Just being able to look back and see that you’ve done something. That you’ve accomplished … a rapid or a rock or a trail or something like that,” says Allan.
Tips for Parents
- Research shows that certain approaches to parenting can help prevent teens from engaging in all types of risky behaviors, from drug and alcohol use to dangerous driving to sexual activity. This includes having a warm, loving and close relationship with your teen; setting and consistently enforcing clear rules and consequences; closely monitoring your teen’s activities and whereabouts; respecting your teen; and setting a good example, especially when it comes to illicit drug and alcohol use. (Office of National Drug Control Policy)
- Encourage safe driving, healthy eating and good school performance; discourage drug use, teen sex and activities that may result in injury. (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, HHS)
- Teach healthy habits. Teach your teenager how to maintain a high level of overall health through nutrition, physical fitness and healthy behaviors. Make sure your teen gets eight hours of sleep a night — a good night’s sleep helps ensure maximum performance in academics and sports. Sleep is the body’s way of storing new information to memory and allowing muscles to heal. (HHS)
- Promote safe driving habits. Make sure your teenager uses a seat belt every time he or she is in a car, and ask your child to ensure that all other passengers are wearing their seatbelts when he or she is driving. Encourage your young driver to drive responsibly by following speed limits and avoiding distractions while driving such as talking on a cell phone, focusing on the radio or even looking at fellow passengers instead of the road. (HHS)
- Promotion of school success. Help your teen to become responsible for attendance, homework and course selection. Be sure to have conversations with your child about school and show your interest in his or her school activities. (HHS)
- Prevent violence. Prevent bullying by encouraging peaceful resolutions and building positive relationships. Teach teens to respect others and encourage tolerance. Teach your teens that there is no place for verbal or physical violence by setting an example with your words and actions and by showing them respect as well. (HHS)
- Know the 4“W’s”—who, what, when, where. Always know who your teen is hanging out with, what they will be doing, when and for how long they will be out, and where they will be. And check up on your child. Be aware of the dangers that can arise at teenage parties. Teen parties present an opportunity for your teen to experiment with alcohol or tobacco. One approach is to host the party so you have more control over ensuring that these parties stay safe and fun for everyone involved. (HHS)
- Office of National Drug Control Policy
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS)