Tag Archive for risk-taking

The Crazy Exploration of Teens

Teens seem to have two speeds: lounging around the house or running around “who-knows-where” with their friends.  At home, they often appear “bored” and maybe even a little grumpy. With their friends, they are energetic and full of smiles, exploring new places and trying out new activities. Sometimes we may even think they are engaging in too much novelty with their friends. However, while exploring their world and interests can carry some risk, our teens’ energetic exploration of their world actually benefits them in life. In fact, they need to engage in this exploratory behavior.

A study published in 2022 shows us a couple of the benefits of this energetic exploration. The researchers in this study followed teens and young adults (13- to 27-years-old) using GPS trackers. The GPS trackers could measure how often the participants visited novel locations over a 3-month period. This provided “real-life data” of exploratory behavior and novelty seeking. Based on this data and the participating teens’ self-report, the study suggests:

  • Daily exploration peeked during the transitional years of 18 to 21.
  • All ages (13- to 27-years) reported better moods on days in which they had explored more. In other words, exploration was linked to greater psychological well-being.
  • Those with higher than average levels of exploration also reported larger social networks. In the long run, a strong social network is associated with greater emotional well-being.
  • Teens who explored more also reported more risky behavior. This was not true for adults. Perhaps adults have better learned their limits, strengths, and interests.

Taken together, these results suggest that teens and young adults are explorers. They are exploring the possibilities that will come with adulthood. As a result, our teens and young adults benefit from exploration and novelty seeking behaviors. It prepares them for adulthood. Whether it be visiting new places, trying new things, experimenting with new hobbies, or sampling new friend groups, exploratory behavior enhances our teens’ well-being and helps them establish stronger social connections.

We can help our teens explore their world and the “world beyond” by providing them with healthy opportunities to explore areas of interest. As we provide healthy opportunities, we can help assure their safety while promoting their maturity. For more ideas see Love Your Teen’s Risky Behavior and Parenting Lessons from a Washtub Bass.

Let Them Take a Risk

Teens love the thrill of taking risks. They seek experiences that will stimulate their senses, emotions, and thinking. This desire stems from brain changes that produce changes in the reward system of the brain. We often look at this “novelty seeking behavior” (AKA, risk taking) as a problem that puts our teens in danger. However, this behavior also holds many positive possibilities and opportunities. For instance, taking risks help our teens learn new things. It prepares them to leave home and begin life on their own. It helps them gain confidence. Ironically, it also helps them develop the motivation necessary to “take on” other challenging and beneficial tasks in life. So, if you want to have a motivated teen who is moving toward responsible independence, let them take a risk to grow on.

  • Don’t make “no” your go to answer. Constant “no’s” may either push your teen into rebellion or it may discourage them and rob them of motivation. Before you say “no,” get curious. Ask a few questions. Find out more about their ideas and what they want to accomplish. As you explore their ideas and desires, you might find they’ve already considered several risk factors. You can help them think through other potentially dangerous aspects of their ideas. In addition, you stimulate them to think about creative opportunities to move toward their goals through various adventures. Still, there will be some risk. (When you have to say “no,” consider this.) Even starting to drive carries risk. We, as parents, need to trust our teens to moderate their risk on their own and…
  • Provide them with “training wheels” when necessary. Children and teens learn to trust their abilities, their bodies, and their knowledge along with the limits of each by engaging in activities and behaviors that present a challenge and, as a result, present some risk. As they engage in these activities, there may be times when you can provide “training wheels.”  For instance, “Cinderella laws” around driving function as “training wheels” to help prevent accidents for young drivers. Providing the necessary safety equipment—i.e.-bike helmets, pads for sports, a safety class—for their activities also provides safety education and “training wheels.” Teach them to use “toys,” tools, and equipment safely. You might even know another adult who can function as mentor for them in that activity. Provide some supervision without taking over. Doing so will help them build balance in that activity and minimize the risk.
  • Let them make mistakes. Mistakes and “failures” are opportunities to gain experience, learn, and grow. But, if we step in and “protect” them from the consequences of their mistakes, we rob them of the opportunity to gain experience. So, let them fail while providing a “soft place” of empathy and care on which they can land when the inevitable failures occur. A place of empathy and curiosity (rather than judgment and shame) will allow them to reflect upon the mistake and what they can learn from it.
  • Trust them to learn and grow. Children and teens learn from their mistakes. Get to know your children and teens. Learn about their strengths and interests. Learn about their potential areas of weakness. Observe how their strengths have matured and how they have utilized their strengths to compensate for various weaknesses. Recognize how some weaknesses have actually become strengths through repetition and practice. Doing so will help you trust your teen to learn and grow.

Teens love to take a risk and it’s a good thing they do. Taking reasonable risks help them to grow and become independent adults with interests and passions. Encourage those risks and watch them blossom.

“Cheat Codes” for Dads: Confidence

If you play video games, you know the value of a good “cheat code.” They help the player advance to a new level or gain a special power. Other “cheat codes” help the gamer obtain a special tool or weapon needed for greater success.

If you’re a Dad of daughters, you may feel as though you need a “cheat code.” You may want inside information to help you move toward an advanced level of understanding in relation to your daughter. You likely desire a “cheat code” that will provide a gateway to the special power needed to influence your daughter toward maturity.  If so, I have just what you’re looking for: “cheat codes” for dads raising daughters.

The last “cheat code” provided information about “Spending Time With Your Daughter.” Here is another “cheat code” for raising daughters: Showing Confidence in Your Daughter’s Abilities.

The Cheat Code: Showing Confidence in Your Daughter’s Abilities.

Purpose: Showing Confidence in Your Daughter’s Abilities will…

Value: Every day, your daughter’s confidence and inner strength is undermined in a multitude of ways. Our cultural obsession with a particular brand of beauty leads to a lack of confidence in our daughters. In fact, 80% of 10-year-old girls have been on a diet because they lack confidence in the appearance of their body! Struggles at school with teachers and academic work also impacts our daughters’ confidence. Conflict with peers, jealousy, boyfriend problems, girl drama…it all threatens to crush your daughter’s confidence.

Fortunately for us, children first gain a sense of confidence from their family. More importantly,  you, her father, have a special power to boost your daughter’s confidence. You do it by simply Showing Confidence in Your Daughter’s Abilities.

Instructions: Showing Confidence in Your Daughter’s Abilities involves…

  • Praise specifically. Don’t just offer a broad acknowledgements like “Good job” for something she did well. Offer a specific praise. For instance, “I really liked the time you went around the defender to shoot the goal. That was fancy footwork.” Or, “I love that blue color you chose in your drawing. How did you choose that?”
  • Expose your daughter to challenges. Climb trees and mountains with your daughter. Go backpacking. Let them drive on a snowy day. Support them in trying out for the school play. Applaud their solo. When we support our daughters in taking risks, we show our confidence in their ability. And they learn to have confidence in their abilities as well.
  • Let them go. Our children start exhibiting a desire for independence when they crawl away from us into another room or refuse to eat the mashed sweet potatoes on the spoon we are floating in front of their face. Encourage their age appropriate independence. Support it. Teach them and then show confidence in their ability to do what they have learned.
  • Listen to your daughter. Really listen. Let her teach you about her life at school, her friends, her music, her world. Show genuine interest in her and her world. Carefully consider what she says and let her words influence you. Acknowledge her wisdom. And, change with her as she grows and teaches you. You might even learn to like some of that “kid’s music” along the way. More importantly, your daughter will grow confident in her ability to voice her opinions.
  • Let your daughter do significant tasks that contribute to the household. Yes, this means chores. But make sure they know the significance of those chores to the household. Thank them for doing the chores…after all, we thank people for doing those things that are important to us.

The Dilemma of Your Emerging Butterfly

I remember the story of a boy watching a butterfly slowly free himself from its cocoon. The boy felt pity as he watched the butterfly struggle to get out the cramped wrappings of transformation. He feared the butterfly was not making progress quickly enough. He feared the butterfly might hurt himself in the struggle. So, to be helpful, the boy got some scissors, cut the cocoon open, and freed the butterfly. Unfortunately, the butterfly did not fly away in gratitude. He fell to the ground with small, shriveled wings. The butterfly’s wings never opened up and he never flew. He was confined to crawling on the ground for the rest of his short life. The butterfly needed the struggle to develop his wings for flight and prepare his body for life outside the cocoon. I don’t know if the story is true or even realistic (I did find a rendition of it at Struggle is Good! I Want to Fly!), but it does make an important point. Sometimes we need to struggle and take risks to grow. 

Did you know that recent research suggests that one contributor to the increase in children suffering with anxiety is overprotective parenting? In a sense, we have become so protective of our children…so careful to prevent their risk, their frustration, their potential harm…that we have prevented them from the very experience they need to grow confident and independent. I learned many important lessons as a child in somewhat risky situations, lessons that helped me build confidence, know my limits, and exercise healthy caution.

  • I learned the limits of speed riding my bicycle.
  • I learned the dangers of playing with fire from a paper towel…and making smores.
  • I learned important lessons about height while climbing trees and small “cliffs” near my house (btw-these “cliffs” look small when I see them as an adult).
  • I learned the need for caution when jumping over things while jumping over fallen trees.
  • I learned the potential for hurting someone and being hurt by playing “pick-up games” of football.
  • I learned to use caution cutting grass by cutting grass and experiencing some “flying debris.”

We learn our capabilities and the limits of those capabilities when we take small risks during our play as children. Our children need the opportunity to play and engage in some independent activities, even ones that carry risk, so they can grow and learn about their capabilities and limits. Of course, we will provide appropriate levels of protection so those risks are age appropriate and not overly dangerous. Even so, they will get bruises, cuts, and scratches along the way. They may experience frustrations and even cry about some of those frustrations. And, they will learn. They will grow. They will become independent. So…how can you begin to allow your child, your butterfly, to emerge from their cocoon and become more independent over the next week?

Love Your Teen’s Risky Behavior

Teens love the thrill of taking risks. They seek out experiences that will stimulate their senses, emotions, and thinking in new and challenging ways. Daniel Siegel describes this novelty seeking as part of the adolescent’s E.S.S.E.N.C.E. (read The Essence of Silhouette of hiking man jumping over the mountains at sunsetAdolescence for more information). Like our teens’ Emotional Spark (read more about the Emotional Spark of Your Adolescent’s ESSENCE), their Novelty (N) seeking stems from brain changes that produce an increased drive for reward. Novelty seeking plays an important role in teen development. It helps them try out emerging abilities. It prompts them to leave the familiar comforts of home and venture into an unknown world. Their Emotional Spark contributes to seeking Novel experiences with passion and gusto, enabling our teens to seek out and establish their identity in the adult world outside their childhood home. As beneficial as this is, it does carry risk, some healthy and some dangerous. At least four actions can help parents work with their teens’ desire for Novelty and adventure while buffering the potential dangers.

  1. Get to know your teens. Become a student of their interests, ideas, activities, friends… their life. I know you have known them all their lives, but they are changing. You see their bodies changing. Now get to know how their inner world is changing as well—their thoughts and emotions, ideas and values. Learn about their insecurities and fears. Explore their interests and ideas. Listen to their emerging dreams and their developing sense of self. You will find it exciting to learn about your developing teen.
  2. As you learn about your teens, provide adventures based on their interests and values. Create opportunities of healthy risk for your teen. These can include anything from BMX riding, mission trips, hunting, rock climbing, or video production. The possibilities are as limitless as your teens’ potential interests. The important thing is to shape the adventure around your teens’ interests.
  3. Communicate with your teen. When you communicate with your teen listen more than you talk. Show genuine curiosity in what they have to say rather than lecture, advise, or direct. Listen attentively. Show genuine interest in what they think. Be curious enough to understand them deeply.

To accomplish the three steps above, you need to spend time with your teen…as much time as you can. Find creative ways to spend time with your teen. Make the most of every opportunity to interact with them, whether while driving them to and from activities or hiking the Appalachians. The time you invest will yield great dividends of enjoyable conversation and intimate relationship.

Your teens’ desire for novelty can provide wonderful opportunities for you to connect with your teen. It may also spark new life into your middle aged lifestyle. Why not enjoy the benefits of your teens’ E.S.S.E.N.C.E for your sake and theirs?

Beware When Playing With Your Children

I love my memories of playing Barbie, Frisbee, badminton (not a pretty sight I must admit), board games, and many more games with my children. These play activities allowed us to bond with one another. They gave us the opportunity to grow more intimate, to laugh together, and to learn from one another. That being said, playing with our children presents some dangers in today’s world. Let me explain.

  • Happy family playingSome parents want to be their children’s best friend. As their children’s best friend, they intrude into every aspect of their children’s life and remain physically present in every corner of their children’s life. They smudge their fingerprint onto every activity, every game, and every relationship in their children’s life. As a result, their children never learn from other trusted adults or other children; they never develop a life of their own.
  • Some parents believe they must keep their children constantly entertained. They will do anything to keep their children happy and active. They hate to see a look of boredom cross their children’s face. So they manage their children’s every waking hour, scheduling an endless cycle of activity. When no outside activity is available, they orchestrate an activity of their own to keep their children busy. Their children never learn how to schedule their own time. They never learn how to entertain themselves.
  • Some parents take over the activity. Stating a desire to teach their children, these parents simply take over. You know, the child begins a video game but the parent jumps in to show them how to do it. Next thing you know, the child sits idly by while the parent plays the game. Or the parent jumps in to show them the “proper way” to clean the table or complete the math problem on their homework…and the child merely watches. Unfortunately, this parent has sent a subtle message that the child is incompetent and incapable.
  • Some parents get caught up in worry about their children’s safety and become over-protective. As a result, this parent limits their children’s play. No activities that might result in injury are allowed. No wandering too far from home. No possibility of failure. These parents teach their children that the world is not a safe place and mistakes are bad. The children come to believe a person cannot recover from failures. As a result, these children limit their activities and their exploration. They avoid risk and challenge. They miss the opportunity for success that healthy risk-taking can promote.


How can a parent avoid these dangers?  Put these four ideas into practice.

  1. A parent’s job is more than play. Children benefit from parents who play with them. However, children also need parents who discipline and teach. Teach your children appropriate behavior. Teach them how to entertain themselves. Teach them to manage their time. Teach them to creatively seek out activities independently.
  2. Children do not need constant entertaining. It is okay to experience boredom. In fact, boredom may pave the way to curious exploration and creative discovery. At the very least, boredom teaches children that they are responsible for their own entertainment and fun.
  3. Let your children take some risks. I don’t mean to let them jump off skyscrapers. But, let them take some age appropriate, healthy risks. Remember, healthy risks can lead to great learning and success. Allow your children to make mistakes and experience failures. The best learning often occurs in that moment of failure.
  4. Allow older siblings and other adults the opportunity to supervise your children and their activities. Children can learn a lot from other adults. Sometimes they will learn more easily from other adults than they do from their parents. So let your children get involved with other trusted adults. And, let older siblings watch children. The older sibling can learn responsibility and takes the role of mentor more seriously when parents allow them to influence their younger sibling more directly.


Yes, playing with your children carries some risk. Don’t get lost in overprotecting, intruding, managing, or entertaining. Instead, remember to teach, allow some boredom, encourage healthy risks, and provide opportunities to learn from other mature adults.

Let Your Children Experience the Joy of…Risk?

Many of my childhood memories involve risks I took and the lessons I learned from those risks. Here are some of the lessons I learned: I can only climb so high into a tree before the branches become too weak to hold me; you can only go so fast on your bike on a gravel-Fun on the ropescovered turn; throwing rocks demands great caution; do not keep your acorn collection in the house; make sure people really hear and understand when you ask to destroy their favorite washtub to make a washtub bass; you get burned playing with fire; and seriously, you need to look both ways (several times) before crossing a street. I learned these lessons in response to risks, small risks and big risks. Some of these memories involve minor injuries. Others simply involved learning an important lesson before an injury even occurred. Either way, I grew and learned from the risk.


When I became a father (a risk well worth taking, I might add) I noticed risk-taking begins at a very early age, even before a child learns to walk! In many houses it begins with crawling and the desire to climb the stairs…and various pieces of furniture…or even visiting a relative. Of course, if we never risk falling, we would never learn to walk. Risk-taking does not end when we enter adulthood either. In fact, healthy risk-taking is an important aspect of a successful life. Hopefully, we have learned how to take wise risks, risks with a potential “pay-off” great enough to justify the risk, because of what we learned during our childhood experiences of risk.


It’s true; our ability to take wise risks is honed in childhood and adolescence, built on the foundation of minor risk-taking enjoyed throughout our growing years. Taking risks in childhood prepares us for the very real dangers of life. It teaches us what we can and cannot do, when to approach a situation with caution and when to leave well-enough alone until we have some help. Exposure to risk in childhood builds competence in decision-making and problem-solving. It leads us to develop a realistic judgment of our capabilities. By doing so, risk actually increases our ability to act safely and even avoid injury.


So, with all this benefit from risk-taking, why do we as parents jump in to protect our kids from every risk and challenge? I know we do not want them to get hurt, but some risk actually increases their ability to avoid injury in the future. Nothing teaches us the realistic limits of our body and a healthy respect for risk better than a few minor falls, skinned knees, and bruised egos. It is hard to watch our children sitting on the ground, holding a knee, and crying because they fell off their bike. But, the knee will heal and the crying will stop. The long-term lesson can last a lifetime. The lesson they gain from these experiences will depend on Silhouette of hiking man jumping over the mountains at sunsetour response. We can let them sit with a friend while we walk the bike back to the car and pick them up after buying them a treat to help them “feel better”…and teach them that any action with the potential of temporary hurt is not worth the risk. Or, we can help them get back on the bike and finish the ride…teaching them that they can learn and grow by persevering through wise risks. To say this in a different way, we can let our response to risk communicate that our children need constant protection…or let our response communicate that they can make age-appropriate decisions over their lives. We can allow risk to teach our children how to cross the proverbial street of life carefully and safely…or we can prevent risk in their life and keep them from ever crossing the street, content to live on one side of the street and never experience the possible growth and adventure awaiting them on the other side. We can use risk to teach our children how to engage the unstructured situations of life boldly, alert to potential dangers as they pursue their dreams…or we can respond to risk in a way that leads them to internalize a feeling of vulnerability, a fear of stepping out and experiencing the immense opportunities of life. We can release them to learn how to address problems on their own, take control of their surroundings, and adapt to the unpredictable experiences of life through their experience of risk…or, we can protect them from risk and keep them dependent, constantly seeking safety, and avoiding the unfamiliar. It all depends on your response to the inevitable risk in their life. Which lesson will you risk?

Good Parents Do Nothing!!!

That’s right—you read that title correctly: Good Parents Do Nothing…well, sometimes anyway. I know it goes against our grain and our desire to create the perfect child, but sometimes the best course of action to take with your child is to do nothing. Don’t get me wrong; I still think parents need to remain very active in their children’s lives. Our children need us to guide them and even protect them at times. Still, sometimes the best and most loving course of action a parent can take is to do nothing. When we avoid taking every opportunity to intervene in our children’s activities, we communicate a very important message—”I trust you to do the right thing.” When we permit them to make mistakes rather than jumping in to “save them,” we communicate that same message—”You are a capable person who can learn from mistakes.”

If you want to communicate a different (an ineffective and less healthy) message to your child, jump right in to solve their problems, fix their mistakes, and make sure they have fun. Intervene whenever they encounter a struggle. Intrude into your children’s every activity. Make sure you are present and involved with everything they do. That way, you can communicate messages like the ones below:

·         “You cannot learn on your own. I have to teach you everything.”

·         “I am uncomfortable with any mistake you make. Your mistakes make me feel inadequate.”

·         “I want to be proud of your accomplishments…and I’m afraid your accomplishments will not be good enough to make me proud.”

·         “I secretly want you to fulfill all my dreams.”

·         “You must need me or I am incomplete, useless, inadequate.”

·         “You must need me or I have no purpose.”

 I realize there will be times when a parent must step in and help, discipline, or play. Our children need us. However, they also need us to step back sometimes and do nothing so they can grow into competent and healthy young adults.