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Risk Behaviors in Teens

Pushing the boundaries and testing limits are natural and to be expected from teenagers. Every person is different and will undoubtedly behave differently.

teen who engages in risky behaviorsCertain risky behaviors in which teenagers may partake are not necessarily done so with malicious intent, but rather may simply occur due to the use of poor judgment, or in direct connection to their brain development. As parents, it is imperative to help teach your children to make safe and smart decisions. Exploring limits and testing abilities is not always negative, in fact, there are safe and constructive activities that can satisfy a teenagers need for thrill-seeking and/ or risk-taking behaviors. Maintain open lines of communication with your teenager. Discuss taboo topics, and as uncomfortable as it may feel for some parents, open up dialogue about common teenage exposures such as sex, drugs, and other risky behaviors. 

Teenage Brain

The human brain is not fully developed until age twenty-five. Adolescents function primarily from the amygdala. The amygdala is the area of the brain that controls feelings and pleasure. Typically developed adults rely primarily on the prefrontal cortex of their brain when it comes to decision-making. The pre-frontal cortex is the area of the brain that rules rational thought. This means that teenagers make decisions based on their feelings. The way a teenage brain works implies that engaging in thrill-seeking behaviors can be somewhat attributed to the massive emotional stimuli input with minimal regard for subsequent (rational) consequences. 

Common Risky Teenage Behaviors

There are a number of risky behaviors that are commonly exhibited among teenagers. Some examples can include the following:

  • Fighting
  • Truancy
  • Dangerous driving
  • Sexual promiscuity 
  • Use of illegal substances
  • Smoking
  • Engaging in unprotected sex
  • Partaking in illegal activities (i.e. trespassing, vandalism…etc.)

It is important to note that not all teenagers will demonstrate every example listed above. It is also normal for a parent to feel concerned when noticing any of the above examples being exhibited by their teenager. 

What To Do

As a parent, depending on the seriousness and potentially dangerous outcomes that can transpire due to a teenager’s risky behavior, implementing certain ideas may be helpful. Some of them can include:

  • Setting strict boundaries: teenagers must begin to learn the correlation between their actions and subsequent consequences. Maintaining healthy boundaries and illuminating natural consequences when they are crossed is essential. 
  • Discuss values: involving your child in developing clear family values can help your child develop responsibility and cultivate his or her own personal values and moral compass.
  • Encourage a robust social network: teenagers can be mean to one another. Having a wide range of people to spend time with can help a teen avoid feelings of rejection and loneliness. 

Although bearing witness to your teenager’s risky behavior can be quite challenging, keep in mind that taking risks is a normal part of adolescence. It encourages a child to develop their own sense of individuality and paves the way to becoming an independent young adult. 

For Information and Support 

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.


  • Bowker, J.C., Adams, R.E., Fredstrom, B.K., & Gilman, R. (2014). Experiences of being ignored by peers during late adolescence: Linkages to psychological maladjustment. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 60(3), 328-354. doi: 10.1353/mpq.2014.0015.
  • Kim-Spoon, J., Holmes, C., & Deater-Deckard, K. (2015). Attention regulates anger and fear to predict changes in adolescent risk-taking behaviors. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines56, 756-765. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12338.
  • Willoughby, T., Good, M., Adachi, P.J.C., Hamza, C., & Tavernier, R. (2014). Examining the link between adolescent brain development and risk taking from a social–developmental perspective. Brain and Cognition89, 70-78. doi:

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