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What you need to know about teens and risk-taking behaviour

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Raising a teenager Teens and risk-taking behaviour

Teens are hard-wired to take more risks than adults. And this isn’t always a bad thing. Learning to take risks is an important part of growing up – we all need to be able to take a chance, or we’d probably never leave the house! But this attitude can also lead teens into potentially dangerous situations.

Here are some tips for talking to your teen about risky behaviour, and helping them manage the risks they take.

Why do young people take risks?

The thing to remember is that teenagers’ brains aren’t fully developed yet. The part of their brain responsible for thinking things through is still growing, while the part of their brain that deals with emotions and instincts is much more developed, which means it tends to take over.

This means they can’t always think through the consequences of their actions as clearly as most older people can. It also makes them more impulsive, as the emotional part of their brain (which tends to be in control) gets a kick out of doing things ‘just for fun’.

In addition, many teens really want to fit in with their friends and are scared of being rejected by them. This means they can sometimes be persuaded to do things in a group situation they probably wouldn’t do on their own.

Young people need to push themselves out of their comfort zones to try new challenges, like taking up a new sport, joining a club, making new friends or applying for college, university or a job. A willingness to take risks can make them more open to change, which is just as well, as things change a lot at this age. But it can also lead to clashes with you, their parents. While your priority is to keep your child safe, your teen is more concerned with being accepted by their friends, becoming more independent from you and trying new experiences.

And this can lead them to try higher risk experiences, like:

  • experimenting with alcohol, vaping, smoking and drugs
  • taking risks sexually, like having unprotected sex
  • sexting and other risky online behaviour
  • skipping school 
  • breaking the law, for example, by shoplifting, trespassing or vandalism.

If you’re concerned about any of these issues these pages have more information:

If you’re interested in finding out more about how teenagers’ brains work, this page on the DSM Foundation website explains in more detail and includes helpful videos you can watch.

How can I help my teen make more informed decisions?

Father and daughter chatting while doing the washing up

Father and daughter chatting while doing the washing up

Let’s face it, we’ve all made decisions in the past that could have had harmful consequences. It’s part of growing up. And as your teen’s brain develops, they’ll learn to weigh up risks more carefully and make more informed decisions.

But in the meantime, there are lots of things you can do to support them through the ups and downs of teenage life and help them avoid making decisions that could affect them in later life.

Tips for supporting teens to make informed decisions

What to do if you're worried

Most young people take risks at some point, so you can expect them to push the boundaries every so often. But if they’re regularly doing dangerous things, like taking drugs or breaking the law, you don’t have to cope with this alone.

Our page on getting support when you’re raising a teen has further information on the support available to you and your teen.

Our page on vaping, smoking, alcohol and drugs also has more information on supporting your child in these situations.

Last updated: 21 Nov, 2023