If you’re nervous about your teen taking risks, you’re not alone.
Most parents are terrified at the thought of their teenagers taking risks, but that’s because many parents think of teen risk-taking as binge drinking, using drugs, and other negative risks.
But what these parents forget is that there are healthy risks. These are risks that don’t put your teen in danger, but require him to risk something — such as failure or criticism. In the process of taking healthy risks, she’ll gain confidence, courage, and the ability to plan and resist impulses — all important skills she’ll need in life. Most parents understand that when they teach their child to ride a bike, there’s a good chance that their child will end up with a skinned knee — but that risk is worth the reward of motor skills, confidence and self-esteem that come with learning to ride. That’s exactly what healthy risks are about.
Identifying Healthy Risks
The best way to help your teen avoid negative risks is to find healthy risks to substitute for the thrill risk-taking provides in the first place. Most teens are full of enthusiasm, but low on specific ideas. Here are a few questions to kickstart the conversation:
- What makes you the happiest?
- To you, what’s the most valuable thing in the world?
- What’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever done or can imagine doing?
- If you had eight hours to do whatever you wanted, what would you do?
Once your teen settles on an activity, asking simple questions is a great way to help her get going and to run with the idea:
- How much time do you want to dedicate to this activity?
- How will you get there?
- What equipment or tools will you need?
- Who should you contact?
If she’s hesitant to try something new, talk about your own healthy risk-taking – and your failures. Be sure to model the behavior you want to see in your teen, too, so she has an example set for her.
- Indoor rock climbing, riding rollercoasters and sports can provide a rush or thrill. Look for businesses that provide safety training and enforce safety rules.
- Run for a class officer position, try out for a team or a play. There is risk inherent to making oneself vulnerable to critique. Support a young person by helping him or her practice before tryouts or create a campaign for office.
- Try something new as a family. Often times risky behaviors are deemed exciting because they are new. Consider activities like kayaking, paddle boarding, trying a new food, taking lessons or going to a theme park. The risk is not always physical, it can be trying something that you may or may not be good at.
- Meet new people. Joining a club or making new friends involves a social risk.
- Study abroad, host an exchange student or take a college course.