Getting your teen to 21, safely

It all happens so fast!

One minute you’re strapping his sleeping little form into a car-seat. Then, before you know it, he’s out practising death-defying skate-board moves on a busy street RoboLogic program!

The problem isn’t with kids becoming more independent as they get older: that’s the whole point of raising them. What’s hard is dealing with young teens as they start to take risks beyond your control. Risk-taking is a necessary part of growing up, but it can stretch your nerves to breaking-point!

Why teens take risks

Risk-taking peaks at age 15-16 years and it is an important part of your teen’s normal development for 3 reasons:

  1. Brain function: The parts of the brain that manage impulse control aren’t fully mature until around the age of 25. While this is still developing, your teen is more likely to make emotional and impulsive decisions. Unable to really think consequences through, your teen may want to carry on gaming right through a school night, or try a really dangerous bike-stunt. And that’s why parents, coaches and mentors are so important!
  2. Expression and exploration: Your teen needs to explore her abilities and limits. This often means pushing against the boundaries you’ve set. This is also a time for her adult identity to develop, so expect her to start expressing herself as an individual – even if it means she starts wearing really strange outfits!
  3. Interacting with others: This is the one area that can impact your teen in the best or worst possible way. Teenagers have a deep need to be accepted by their peers. If you can, make positive social interactions possible for them. At this age, your teen is very vulnerable to taking risks because of peer pressure. Be involved.

What is risk-taking?

Risk-taking doesn’t have to be dangerous. Sometimes it’s just choosing to take an unpopular opinion. If your 15-year-old suddenly announces she’s a vegan (or she’d like to start eating meat), that’s risk-taking. This is an important part of development as her own person. Sure, it’s annoying to run a double menu at every meal-time, but this is when parents need to choose their battles wisely.

Keep lines of communication open, which means a safe place to talk without judgement. And it doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything – just that you allow mature give-and-take conversations with your teen. Let teens express their individuality within reason. The good news? There’s every chance that she’ll start missing your home-made beef or veggie burgers before long. As long as no-one makes a big deal out of it.

Read  Starting big school!

The kinds of risk-taking that can get dangerous include:

  • experimenting with drugs or alcohol
  • ditching school
  • smoking
  • illegal activities like shoplifting or vandalism (OK, not your child!)
  • fighting
  • unsafe sexual behaviour (we don’t want to think about this, but kids experiment and this is a big risk)
  • getting drawn into gang activity

How am I supposed to handle this?

Let’s not kid ourselves – this isn’t the easiest phase for either you or your teen, but there are ways for you to limit potential fall-out:

  • Work out some ground rules together. It’s a teen’s job to experiment and it’s your job to keep them safe, so negotiate a way for you both to do a good job! Be flexible and give your teen more space as he or she takes more responsibility.
  • This is the time to know the people your teen is spending time with. Have your teen’s friends over so that you get to meet them and their parents. Take an interest in his activities, get to know his coach or instructor. With risk-taking, prevention is definitely better than cure!
  • Stay connected to your teenager and make it easy for him or her to talk to you – keep those lines of communication open. Make space for non-judgemental conversations – remember that you are building trust, and try not to be easily shocked!
  • You are still your teen’s most important role model. Be careful not to apply double-standards as no-one can spot a hypocrite faster than a teenager.
  • Give your child every chance to make positive friendships through sport and activities like drama, surfing, music, cycling or running clubs. Activities like these usually have coaches or mentors who also form positive role models and provide some oversight as your teen explores his abilities. Competition of this kind encourages safe risk-taking.

Remember: this is normal

Teenagers need to take some risks to test their abilities and form their identities. Trying to protect them from everything hampers their development, so steer them towards constructive forms of risk-taking. Most important thing to remember: this doesn’t last forever.

Joanne Hart for

Source: Raising Children