Lowering the Odds: Risky Behavior and Teens
Liz Pearce, Children’s Museum of Richmond
So much teenage behavior is all about being impulsive, and not about making a rational decision of right and wrong.
The latest research tells us that It also has to do with what type of person they associate with the behavior. For example, if they have a favorable image in their head, of “cool kids” doing something, it’s more likely they will do it. If they associate a “dumb kid” doing something, it’s more likely they won’t do it.
For Example: IF the image is of cool kids knocking down mailboxes, then they will likely do it. If the image is of dumb kids knocking down mailboxes, then they likely won’t do it. The bottom line: They don’t yet have the capacity in their brains to be thinking of ruining their college plans, getting arrested or any of the reasons we have laid out for them. They know what the dangers are, and can recite them to you by chapter and verse. But that knowledge may not be enough.
What DOES work? YOU! Even when teens are confronted with risks, 9 times out of 10 they still want to please you, the parent, and not disappoint you. They are going to make mistakes. It’s inevitable. If you take the mistakes in stride, and teach them how to fix their small mistakes, you’ve got a better shot at avoiding some of the big mistakes.
1. Provide loose structure during down time – Take the time to learn about your child’s interests, other than school. If they aren’t already, get them involved in loosely structured activities on the weekends, or a couple of days after school. This will help them learn to regulate their unstructured time.
2. Supervise who your child hangs out with. Introduce yourself to the kids that your child brings home. Look them in the eye, and introduce yourself. If you can, meet the parents of the kids your child hangs out with. Monitor their activities. Try not to stalk them, but be alert to the possibility of your child stretching the truth about his or her activities.
3. Provide freedom in small increments - Don’t just drop your kid off at the mall when he turns 13 and plan to pick him up when he’s 18. Start slowly. First he takes the grocery list and gets 5 items while you wait in the car. Next, he goes to the middle school chaperoned activity and you drop him off and pick him up. If he gains your trust, meeting you at the appointed times, doing what he is asked, being where he says he is going to be, and keeping his attitude in check, then you give a little more freedom.
4. Set boundaries, and stick to them. A teen driver with a car full of her buddies is just as dangerous as a teen who drinks and drives. We talk all the time about drinking and driving, but imagine your child driving a car with four other teenagers, a blaring stereo and a cell phone. If your rules are broken, you keep the keys.
The longer we can prevent them from getting into risky situations, the better. In addition, the more tools we can give them to get themselves out of risky situations, the better. That's a skill they will keep for life!