More often then not we associate risk-taking behavior in teens as negative or harmful. However, we know that the teen brain is literally wired to take risks. Therein lies the dilemma. We are left with the belief, or fear, that our teens are going to take risks that could have serious consequences.
I would like to offer a different perspective. If we know that our teens are naturally going to engage in experiences that give them an adrenaline rush, why not provide them with opportunities to have that rush in an environment that promotes positive youth development? When you really think about it, don’t we all develop new skills and competencies when we put our selves out there and take a risk? Now, I am not suggesting that you encourage your teen to be dangerous or unsafe. Rather, I am suggesting that you literally set up opportunities for them to take positive risks.
Start by really thinking about what kind of activities best fit your teen. Below are some examples of positive risks that relate to different characteristics in teens:
- Social risks: For some teens, it is risky to speak out in a group. If you have a quiet or reserved teen, it may be enough to encourage them to take a leadership role in something like student counsel or a local youth group.
- Physical risks: Some teens find satisfaction in taking risks on the field. This may be through school or community sponsored sport teams. Not only can sports be good for team building and leadership development, they expose young people to adult role models.
- Other physical risks: Not all teens like team sports. Some may prefer to take up skateboarding, mountain biking, skiing, rock climbing, white water rafting, or surfing. Of course, they need to have the right equipment and safety training. These activities develop initiative and personal discipline.
- Political risks: Some teens are passionate about making a difference in their community. They may like writing their local congressman/woman, voicing their opinion on debate team, or participating in community activist or youth governance groups.
- Creative Risks: Teens can express their creative juices in a variety of contexts. Some may take an interest in the drama team or the school choir. Others may like playing guitar, reading poetry, or reciting spoken word at the local coffee shop. Either way, this kind of expression can take some serious guts! Not only do these activities give young people an opportunity to develop a specific skill, they teach them to be competent in public speaking.
- Competitive Risks: Give your teen a chance to compete if they are inclined. They can learn a lot, regardless of whether they win or lose. If your teen does lose, treat it as opportunity to teach that we all lose at some point. Losing a competition does not make him/her a failure. It simply means there was a lack of performance.
We have to do everything we can to keep our teens physically and emotionally safe. But, we also have to give our teens a chance to take risks, learn about themselves, and develop skills and competencies that help them accomplish what they want in the world. Experts say that when teens have opportunities to take positive risks, they are more inclined to avoid the negative ones. Think about our great leaders. People like Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Abraham Lincoln did not have the impact they had on the world by sitting back and being careful all the time. I would like to leave you with some of my favorite quotes from Abraham Lincoln. As you read them, take a moment to consider how you can share these with your teen, or even be the example of how they are expressed in the world.
1. “People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
2. “The best way to predict your future is to create it”
3. “Those who look for the bad in people will surely find it.”
4. “Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality.”
5. “I am not concerned that you have fallen — I am concerned that you arise.”
6. “The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.”
7. “Live a good life. In the end it is not the years in a life, but the life in the years.”
8. “No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.”
9. “Character is like a tree and reputation its shadow. The shadow is what we think it is and the tree is the real thing.”
10. “It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”