Risky Teenage Behaviour: Understanding and Preventing it

Why are teenagers so prone to getting themselves in sticky situations? Read on to find out how they are wired and what you can do about it.

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Every other day, you come across some news about risky teenage behaviour. Either they are doing something completely insane or getting into trouble. 

Latest in the line of fire is the case of students fooling around on a ledge. Images of them hanging out on open ledges of the 16th floor of Riversound Residences in Sengkang, has spread like wildfire on social media.

Mr. Andrew, a resident, described them to be lower secondary (between 12 – 14 years of age) students. There were five of them. He happened to be watering his plants when he looked up and saw them.

The first thing that came to his mind – are they about to commit suicide?

Instinctively, he wanted to shout at them but did not do so in fear of shocking them and causing them to fall. Instead, he took a video of them dangling their legs over the edge, squatting around and eventually returning indoors one by one.

Mr. Andrew was concerned about this risky teenage behaviour and that these impressionable youngsters are influenced by peer pressure and the internet. 

The management acted quickly and informed the parents of one of the students.

Strangely enough, this isn’t the first incident of such risky teenager behavior in the condominium. In another incident in the same condominium, four boys were seen running along the rooftop.

Another recent incident of risky teenage behaviour is that of the tragic misadventure of a 14-year-old girl who tied a pillow to her back, and jumped out of her unit on the seventh floor. She believed this would cushion her fall.

Unfortunately, she fell to her death.

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Is risky teenage behaviour inevitable?

Over the last two decades, neuroscientists have done much research to try and put their finger on just why teenagers love to seek thrills, break rules and are completely nonchalant about rationality and safety.

Teenagers behave the way they do because they are at a difficult stage.

The verdict? Yes, it’s true. Neuroscientists confirm that risky teenage behaviour is attributed to how teens are wired. And they are indeed wired differently from adults.

Meaning to say, it is innate for teenagers to behave recklessly and impulsively.

How teenagers are wired

  • Exploratory years. The adolescent years is the time to explore and experiment. Kids feel on top of they world. They believe they are powerful and are very much immune to the dire consequences of their irrational actions.
  • Impulsivity. Some of the most hazardous forms of risk taking behaviour is linked to impulsivity traits that are evident in early development. One such form of impulsivity – sensation seeking, rises drastically during their teenage years.
  • High excitement, low effort. Adolescents like high excitement, low effort activities. They like games that are dangerous. They like doing risky things.
  • Evolution. For mammals, adolescence is the time when individuals leave the family environment. They feel the need to become independent of their parents and to fend for themselves. And precisely because venturing out into the wild and unknown is risky, at this stage, teens have in-built mechanisms to ignore the dangers of the unknown.

What to do about risky teenage behaviour?

Well, just because teens are wired to behave such, it doesn’t mean that we can just sit back, allow nature to take its course and watch our children landing themselves in trouble. Here are some ways to keep teenagers out of death-defying situations.

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1. Restructuring the environment

Since it’s much harder to change your teens’ innate behavioural patterns, why not change the environment instead? Make the environment around them one that is safer.

Parents should ensure that kids don’t spend a lot of time unsupervised.

A school teacher who has worked with ‘troubled teens’ over the years mentions:

Teenagers should be supervised and not left to return to an empty home.

Most of the time, those who are most susceptible to this pattern of risky teenager behaviour are the ‘latch-key children’. When they return to an empty home, and have a bunch of friends and the internet to get ideas from, it’s a recipe for disaster. That’s when things start to happen.

Parents need to arrange for someone to watch them, or to work with schools to have some kind of after-school care. We do provide such arrangements, especially for at-risk students.

2. Positive Reinforcement

Asian parents are known to show ‘tough love.’ As such, they often focus too much on punishments and negative behaviour. When it comes to handling teenagers, this isn’t always effective.

Parents can help by rewarding good behaviour. Find incentives that help to motivate your child. For example, give them a bonus allowance when they do something good as opposed to grounding them as a punishment for bad behaviour.

3. Be involved, love them and set boundaries

It’s important for parents to be actively involved in the lives of their growing children. Teenagers are at that age where they think they are too cool for pretty much everything but trust me, they do crave love and attention, a lot of it.

Hug them, kiss them when their friends aren’t looking, comfort them when the going gets tough, and correct them in a loving manner. Don’t be condescending or judgmental. Teenagers hate being judged. One of their favourite phrases is – Don’t judge me.

Accept them the way they are and when you disagree with them, do so with respect. Be tactful and be mindful. Forget about the conventional hierarchy and meet them at their level. It goes a long way.

And in this manner, set boundaries and tell them what is not acceptable. Make it known to them that it is ok to agree to disagree and that you will disagree with them at times, but only in their best interests.

Be loving but firm. Set boundaries.

Do not hesitate to be firm and put your foot down about limits that they shouldn’t cross. But do so in a loving and respectful manner.

4. Keep them occupied

Keep them busy, give them a lot to do. Encourage them to participate in school activities, co-curricular activities, camps, sports and so on. Send them for classes and emphasise to them the importance of spending their time in a productive manner.

Instil the spirit of competition in them. All of these serve as strong deterrents from trouble.

5. Inculcate values

From a young age, make it a point to constantly remind your children of who they are, and where they come from. Remind them of the values that your family stands for.

If culture and religion are important in your household, then make sure that your teenagers have a good understanding of that as well. Do everything that you can to ensure that your children have a strong moral compass.

6. Communicate

I cannot emphasise enough just how important communication is. Make yourself approachable and make sure that your children can talk to you.

Make your relationship such that you are the first person your child wants to discuss just about everything with.

Have dinner as a family as often as possible. Make it a habit to talk about their day. Show interest in what they have to say.

With teenagers, communication is key.

Most importantly, make sure they talk to you about their friends.

It always helps to know who your child’s friends are, and what kind of beliefs and values they uphold. As far as possible, try to meet your child’s friends eery now and then.

Mums and dads, the teenage years is the biggest parenting challenge you will face. Be patient. Remember that you have to be the adult in the relationship. Do your best to take preventive measures but if things do go wrong, remain calm and do the necessary damage control.

Teenagers are still children at heart. They may be difficult, but they are beautiful souls. They just need you to hear them and feel them. 

Source: The Straits Times, CNN