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Risky Teenage Behaviors

Teens are known for their impulsive behaviors and decision-making. To a certain extent, it is completely normal and healthy. However, engaging too often or in too many unhealthy risky behaviors can lead to negative consequences that can have a long-term impact on their health, both physically and mentally.

Risky behaviors are all types of behaviors that are not socially acceptable and could bring negative consequences to the one who practices them. In this context, adolescent risk-taking behavior usually involves unhealthy practices such as underage alcohol consumption, substance abuse, binge drinking, underage sexual intercourse, and reckless behavior.

This article will explain what the most common risk-taking behaviors are and how to help avoid them and deal with them through good parenting practices.

Risky Behavior and the Teenage Brain

Teenage brain development and changes to one's body contribute to risky behaviors. This is because, during the teenage years, the cognitive-control system in the prefrontal cortex is still developing.

Also, during puberty, there are changes in brain structure and function by hormones and neurotransmitters work to increase the desire to seek out rewarding experiences, especially experiences that include risk-taking behaviors.

Studies also show the brain of teenagers might be more biologically wired to engage in risky behaviors. The adolescent age group is quick to make poor decisions and engage in reckless risk-taking behavior more than children and adults. The explanation for this is children are not fully sensitive to rewards, and adults, although sensitive to rewards, can perform impulse control. Likewise, teenagers also lack self-regulation, making it more difficult to say no to certain activities.

Risk factors for Risky Teenage Behavior

There are a few social and environmental factors that can contribute to teenagers making risky decisions and partaking in risky behaviors:

Peer Pressure and Peer Influence

Peer pressure is the first and most common risk factor for teenagers to engage in risky behaviors. Naturally, children and teenagers feel compelled to follow their peers and perform the same activities as them. Sometimes such activities do not come from the most acceptable behavior and involve health risks.

Even if teenagers know what they are doing is wrong, they may choose to do it anyway as a way of being part of a group. And, even if at first teenagers do not agree with a plan, their peers can often pressure them to get involved - this is peer influence.

Either way, many times teens engage in risky behaviors, it is due to the pressure made by their peers.

Mental Health Issues and Trauma

Teens are perhaps the most affected age group when it comes to developing mental health issues. Some of the major mental disorders to affect teens and young adults are depression and anxiety. This is because the teenage brain is more susceptible to stress, and more vulnerable to exterior changes that could, ultimately, lead to the development of these mental health conditions.

In addition, trauma plays a big role in one engaging in risky behaviors such as cigarette smoking, binge drinking, sexual behavior, physical fights, and self-harm. This happens as a way to deal with past traumatic experiences. Teenagers can adopt violent risky behaviors as a way of imitating what they saw someone else do. This is especially true for young people who grew up with parents who would often engage in risky behavior, even violent activities such as selling drugs, stealing, or physical fights.

Feelings of Independence

Taking risks and participating in teen risk behaviors can be a way for teens to strike out on their own and feel 'grown up' and independent even though they are being led by impulse control and not a clear mature thought process.

Seeking Validation

In early adolescence, it is common for children to seek validation from their parents, family, friends, and even other high school students. If the family doesn't show enough support at home, teenagers will seek the affirmation they want from other people. Sometimes, such a need can lead to unhealthy risk-taking behaviors as they seek the wrong validation from the wrong type of people.

Lack of Security

Both physical and emotional security is fundamental throughout childhood into early adulthood and is important for healthy adolescent development. Without these, teens might feel the need to find a group of people who accept them and provide them security. Unfortunately, these misplaced feelings of security can come from the troubled groups involved in high-risk behavior practices.

Lack of Structure at Home

Without proper boundaries and structure put in place by parents or legal guardians, young adults, especially pre-teens feel they don't have limits on what can or can't be done. This means they will push and push to see where they can go. In this process, teenagers will engage in all types of risky behaviors - pushing the boundaries.

Top Teenage Risky Behaviors

Alcohol and Substance Use

Alcohol consumption is usually the most common risk-taking behavior a teen can take. It usually starts early and, in most cases, it does not involve life-threatening circumstances. However, teenagers who drink alcohol from a young age are at higher risk of developing an alcohol addiction later in life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2019, 7% of US high school students had a current misuse of prescription drugs, more specifically, prescriptions for opioids. In the same manner, 14% of students reported misusing opioid prescriptions at least once in their lifetime.

Risk-taking related to alcohol and substance abuse can involve:

  • Drinking alcohol regularly
  • Having five or more drinks in a row - binge drinking
  • Trying drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines or misusing prescription drugs

Tobacco Use and Vaping

The way teenagers consume tobacco is changing. Before, parents would have to worry about tobacco use only from cigarette smoking. However, it is becoming very popular with other tobacco products such as cigars, electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), and vaporizers (vapes).

Risky behaviors related to tobacco use include:

  • Smoking an entire cigarette before the age of 13
  • Smoking a cigarette at least once a week
  • Using various forms of smokeless tobacco

Consequences Related to Substance Use, including Drugs, Alcohol, and Tobacco

Consequences due to drug use can be:

  • School problems - higher rates of absences, lower grades, and risk of failing
  • Social problems - lack of participation in youth activities and clubs
  • Legal problems - becoming involved in illegal activities - such as physically hurting someone while drunk
  • Physical problems - illnesses related to alcohol and drug consumption
  • Injuries related to substance use - like motor vehicle accidents, falls, or even drowning
  • Disruption of normal growth
  • Memory problems
  • Changes in brain development that can be long-term
  • Binge drinking - leading to alcohol poisoning
  • Developing a substance abuse issue

Sexual Behavior

Condom use amongst high school students who have sex decreased from 61% in 2009 to 54% in 2019. Moreover, half of all new STDs reported each year are among young people aged 15 to 24.

Risky sexual behaviors include:

  • Having sexual intercourse before the age of 13
  • Being sexually active - having multiple partners
  • Partaking in unprotected sex
  • Not being tested for HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases
  • Sexting over social media
  • Sharing intimate pictures with others online

Consequences Related to Sexual Behavior

These risky sexual behaviors can lead to:

  • Getting sexually transmitted diseases and infections
  • Unwanted pregnancies

Violence and Mental Health

Usually, choosing to have violent behaviors has more to do with trauma, early development, and the environment in which one grew up rather than other types of risky behaviors mentioned in this article.

Risk-taking behaviors related to violence include:

  • Practicing illegal activities, such as stealing and vandalism
  • Starting a physical fight with others, including peers
  • Being involved in a gang
  • Hitting a younger sibling

Such behaviors can lead to negative outcomes for a teenager's life, including leaving school, serious injuries from fights, and legal problems, including going to jail.

In reverse, a significant number of our young people report being on the receiving end of such violence - 25% of students reported being bullied, 8% of students engaged in physical dating violence, and 11% suffered sexual violence. Additionally, in 2019, reports show 19% of students considered suicide, 16% made a suicide plan, and 9% tried attempting suicide.

Sadly it can become a vicious circle as for teenagers who suffer from mental health issues, risky behaviors such as alcohol or drug misuse might help deal with their emotional pain, easing the sadness or numbness. Of course, these behaviors will most likely make the mental health condition worse, leading to serious consequences such as practicing self-harm and even considering suicide.

Dangerous Driving

Unsafe driving, either from using substances prior to or not being legally allowed, to drive can have catastrophic consequences for both the one driving and others. Generally, teenage boys are more likely to engage in such behaviors.

Lack of Self-Care Practices

Teen risk behaviors related to a lack of self-care practices can lead to developing adolescent health issues. These may include:

  • Not attending Physical Educations classes at school
  • Too many hours playing video games or at the computer
  • Not engaging in hobbies - including physical activities
  • Unhealthy diets - consuming too much sugar and not enough nutrient-rich food

How Can You Avoid Risky Behaviors?

You can only avoid risky behaviors to a certain extent. Remember that many experiences will still occur in your child's life. However, you can help transform these experiences into good memories and avoid negative outcomes from their reckless behavior through parenting teens' practices.

Remember, every teenager desires to take risks, so encourage them to take healthy risks, such as:

  • Trying new sports
  • Learning new skills
  • Gaining autonomy
  • Leaving their comfort zone
  • Making friends - those with different personalities

If you want your children to have a healthy development, choose good parenting practices that are protective factors against adolescent risky behaviors:

  • Choose an authoritative but actively involved parenting style
  • Monitor your children as much as needed
  • Make rules as clear as consequences
  • Be engaged and presented in their activities
  • Explain the reason behind the set boundaries
  • Understand your child's challenges
  • Openly discuss common risky behaviors and their consequences
  • Help them develop useful strategies
  • Accept and forgive mistakes

How to Deal with Risky Teenage Behavior

For most teenagers, topics such as their sexual behavior or substance use are very uncomfortable conversations to have with their parents. However, it is not impossible.

If you find it hard to talk about and deal with risky behaviors on your own, it might help to talk to a relative or trusted family friend to help bring up the subject and open the lines of communication. If you believe your child is engaging in risky behaviors, you can always get support from a mental health professional to understand to what extent your child's behavior is normal or is self-destructing.

Treatment Options for Risky Teenage Behavior

There are different treatment options for teenagers suffering from any type of consequences from maladaptive behaviors. Healthcare providers will offer the best treatment option for each individual - these may include traditional psychotherapy, group or family therapy, and in some severe cases, inpatient treatment programs.

All these types of treatments are designed to help teens learn and develop skills to engage in long-term healthy behaviors to take forward into adulthood.

How Clearfork Academy Can Help Reduce Adolescent Risk-Taking

Clearfork Academy's program is designed for today's teenagers.

At Clearfork, we are experts at treating substance abuse, mental health, and behavioral health. We provide services that are dedicated to helping address these issues that affect not just the teen but the whole family system.

From medical detox, and residential treatment programs, to intensive outpatient treatment, we will provide each client with the best-tailored program to ensure the best outcome.

If you believe your child is engaging in risky behaviors that are health-threatening, contact Clearfork today to find out more about your options.

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Call (817) 259-2597

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