Seeking new experiences is normal for young people, even if this sometimes involves thrill seeking or getting involved in risky behaviour.
Young people need to explore their own limits and abilities, and often seem determined to push the boundaries you set. Expressing themselves as individuals is all part of the path to becoming independent, confident young people.
Why do they do it?
The parts of the brain that handle planning and impulse control don’t completely mature until the age of about 25. This means young people are more likely to make impulsive decisions without thinking through the consequences.
Of course, young people often base their decisions to get involved in potentially risky behaviours and activities on peer pressure and a desire to fit with a group. Risk taking among teenagers doubles when peers are around/involved.
Common risky behaviours
While risk-taking is normal among young people, it’s natural for parents to be worried about certain behaviour including:
Keeping your child safe
Knowing that young people will always test the limits doesn’t make thrill-seeking and risky behaviour any easier to live with.
If you are concerned a young person is taking unsafe risks there are things you can do to help keep them stay safe and ease your own anxiety.
Talking about behaviour and consequences
Help your child learn to work out how much risk is involved in different situations. Avoid lecturing them or putting a ban on the behaviour, as this may have the opposite effect.
Working out agreed rules
Agree some ground rules together – and discuss the consequences of breaking them. Be flexible and adapt the rules as your child gets older and is ready for more responsibility.
Talking about values
Knowing what`s important to your family will help your child develop responsibility and personal values. You can back up family values by being a good role model.
Stay close and keep an eye on things
It’s easier to protect your child if you know where they are. One of your ground rules could be that they let you know where they are going, who with and agree a time to be home.
Make sure your child knows they can contact you if they feel unsafe or pressurised and that you won’t be angry.
Maintaining a close relationship will help you both survive the difficult teenage years and will help your child to deal with peer pressure. They might rely on your help to get them out of potentially risky behaviour without losing face.
While it’s not a good idea to exert too much influence on your child’s friendship groups, you can encourage them to create a wider circle of friends, e.g. by taking part in sports or other leisure activities. Make your child’s friends feel welcome in your home – this will also give you a chance to get to know them.
Seeking thrills the safe way
Young people need to take risks to learn more about themselves and put their abilities to the test. Avoid wrapping them in cotton wool as it’s likely to backfire. Instead, channel their energies into safe and constructive activities, e.g. outdoor pursuits, team sports. Allow your child more independence and freedom in certain things so they won’t feel so inclined to rebel.
When to seek support
Most young people don’t take thrill seeking to the extreme and continual self-destructive behaviour could be a sign of a deeper problem. Talk to your GP. They will decide if your child needs professional help for an underlying mental health issue and can refer them to the right people for treatment.
Care for the Family provides advice on about parenting children of all ages.
Childline supports children and young people. Tel: 0800 1111
Family Lives provides targeted early intervention and crisis support to families.
Parent Talk Cymru provides bilingual parenting support, including online articles and one-to-one chat.