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.