When parents and authority figures imagine the risks taken by teenagers, they will typically picture the destructive and dangerous conduct youth are capable of. Although teens are plagued by a stigma of making ill-informed and impulsive decisions, there is a variety of healthy risks that many adolescents choose to pursue on a daily basis.
In a 2010 NPR interview with Lynn Ponton, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at UC San Francisco and Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia, the two experts divulged some key information on the subject. When asked about what behaviors belong under the classification of healthy risk-taking, Dr. Steinberg listed common extracurricular activities including sports, creative endeavors like art or theater, or volunteering. The important part is that the action satisfies an adolescent’s desire to push his or her own boundaries while still feeling like he or she is in familiar territory.
In contrast, unhealthy risks consist of more life-threatening choices such as driving recklessly, having unprotected sex and using drugs or alcohol according to Dr. Steinberg. In terms of preventing negatively impactful risks and promoting positive alternatives, both he and Dr. Ponton agreed that teens develop risk-taking patterns early and often look to peers and parents to model their behavior. Also, the goal should not be to suppress risk-taking, but to direct youth to productive risks.
The Sutter Health Palo Alto Medical Foundation also categorized healthy and unhealthy practices in regards to risk. Healthy boundary testing encompasses the follow strategies:
- Pushing physical limits : Committing to a physical regiment or regular activity not only provides a person with more energy, but also sets a path toward more exciting experiences that could not be accomplished with a sedentary lifestyle. Possible activities include hiking, riding a bike, working out with friends, participating in races, or even just dancing.
- Expanding the mind : Risks can also be viewed as challenges, which are essential to fostering strong development and avoiding boredom in one’s teen years. Options for mental risk-taking are enrolling in a college-level course, starting a hobby, reading or researching different topics, participating in intellectual debates, learning a new language and exposing oneself to new cultures.
- Nurturing the spirit : Although not typically imagined as a risk, opening up to new beliefs and seeking personal fulfillment is a vulnerable task many teens avoid. This can consist of engaging in spiritual or religious practices, reading and writing, conversing with loved ones about personal experiences or just reflecting about one’s place in the world.
As told by Dr. Ponton, adolescents are biologically programmed to take risks and with good reason. In order to grow from past mistakes and improve skills for their future roles in adulthood, teenagers need to push themselves. In essence, adolescence is a period defined by a cycle of attempting, failing and eventually accomplishing a growing set of goals. White River Academy is a school for adolescent males struggling with mental health disorders, behavioral issues, substance abuse or dual diagnosis. Call our 24/7 hotline today at 866-520-0905 to be connected with a professional.