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Teen Health

Teen Risk-Taking: Tips for Parents

​We all face risks every day.

Teens are faced with making decisions about many new kinds of risk. Choices about drugs, alcohol, driving, relationships, and sex can be life changing.

  • Alberta teens are 3 times more likely to die from injury than all other causes combined.
  • Over 50% of reported sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Alberta are in people between the ages of 15 and 24.
  • Part of growing up is learning how to manage risk and make smart choices. Help your teen learn and practice smart risk.
  • ​Risk-taking is important for a teen’s development. Let teens try new things, but make sure they understand how to stay safe.
  • Taking on new responsibilities like driving or a part time job will help a teen mature. You can lower some risks by making sure that your teen gets safety training when learning new skills.
  • Talk to your teen about how drug and alcohol use affects smart decision making.

It’s about balance…

  • Let teens have enough risk to grow.
  • Teach teens how to manage risk so they're safe.

The Teen Brain and Risk-Taking

Research shows the brain is still developing until people are in their mid-20s. The pleasure centre of a teen brain develops before the judgment centre. That’s why teens often:

  • don’t recognize the risk in things they do
  • don’t think about bad things that could happen
  • make decisions based on how they feel instead of what they know

Alcohol and Other Drugs

  • Alcohol is the highest used substance by Canadian students in grades 7 to 12, with 40% of students reporting they used alcohol in the past 12 months.
  • Cannabis (marijuana, pot, weed) is the second highest used substance after alcohol. Youth in Canada are some of the top users in the world.

Using alcohol and other drugs can lead to dangerous risks because substances affect:

  • coordination
  • reaction time
  • memory
  • self-control
  • the ability to make good choices

Using alcohol and other drugs increases the risk of:

  • injury
  • death
  • violence
  • suicide
  • unplanned and unprotected sex

Cannabis (marijuana, pot, weed) may change how the brain develops. It can permanently affect learning, memory, and mental health. The younger the people are when they use it and/or the more often people use it, the higher the risk of negative effects.

Online and Social Media Safety

  • Teens use technology in many different ways including texting, gaming, using apps, social networking, and online chatting.
  • Pictures and messages considered private can be shared. This can have negative effects on self-image, mental health, and relationships.
  • Talk to teens about cyberbullying and sexting (sending sexual pictures, messages, videos by smart phone, or other Wi-Fi devices) and encourage them to talk to an adult they trust if something they see or receive upsets them.
  • Set limits about how much screen time is allowed and have consequences if expectations aren’t followed.

Teens need to…Parents can…
Push limitsSet limits. Talk about rules and let teens have more freedom so they can show more responsibility.
Make mistakesExpect mistakes. Think of them as a way to learn. When rules are broken, have consequences.
Seek thrills and take risksGive teens a chance to try new things and take smart, but not dangerous risks.
Develop an identityLet teens take on responsibilities. It builds confidence and shows that you trust them.

What you say and do impacts your teen. Be a healthy role model.

  • Always wear a seat belt in the car
  • if you drink alcohol, drink responsibly and don’t drive
  • don't use drugs - teens are more likely to use marijuana if their family or friends do

Smart Risk

If your teen wants to do something that you think is dangerous, talk about it.

  • Talk together about the pros and cons of what your teen wants to do.
  • Look for ways to make the activity safer. Would training or safety equipment help? A different time or place?
  • Ask your teen why this activity is important. Is there something else that your teen could do that's not as dangerous?
  • Have some give and take. If you must say “no”, tell your teen why.

Tips for Talking

Talking about choices gives teens a chance to practice making decisions.

  • Talk often about everyday things. Every talk doesn’t have to be a “big talk”.
  • Share your values, expectations, and concerns. Your teen needs to know where you stand.
  • Don’t lecture. Ask teens what they think about things.
  • Use news stories and TV shows as ways to start talking about hard topics like alcohol, drugs, and sex. Compare the risk-taking on TV with what might happen in real life.
  • Eating meals together regularly is a good way to talk about what happened during the day, and it helps you stay connected to your teen.
  • Celebrate success! Let teens know you notice when they do things that show they're growing up.
  • Remember, even though they may fight you, teens need support and guidance from their parents.

Current as of: August 25, 2017

Author: Sexual and Reproductive Health, Alberta Health Services