Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Teens and Risk-Taking

An Opportunity for Growth

This morning my teenage son picked up a gun and got ready to leave the house – and I told him to have fun. Have I lost my marbles? I hope not. He was heading out for a morning of deer hunting with his father, something he has done for the past two years. While normally the thought of guns and kids honestly gives me a bit of a stomach twist, I’m trying to allow my kids to take risks – with as much preparation as possible – so that they can actively participate in life.

Risks = Opportunities

An article published in ScienceDaily makes me feel a bit better about sending my children into the world and encouraging them to take risks. Scientists have recently begun to understand more precisely how teenage brains are different from childhood brains and adult brains – and much of it has to do with risk-taking. As parents we know that our teens seem ready to conquer the world, and often times feel invincible (which is also what can worry us so much). But – what if the fact that teenage brains get an extra dose of risk-taking drive gives them more opportunities?

Think about your adult life – we weigh the risks. We consider the options. We might not feel very confident, or we spend way too much time calculating the benefits and the consequences. Then we miss the opportunities. We also might consider this to be mature thinking. It is, especially if we equate mature with adult (in terms of age). Scientists have been able to determine that the brains of teenagers have greater capacities for these functions:

  • Increased risk-taking
  • Increased sensation seeking
  • Increased connectivity

Dr. Giedd, contributing to the literature on teenage brains, says that:

“Adolescence is a time of substantial neurobiological and behavioral change, but the teen brain is not a broken or defective adult brain. The adaptive potential of the overproduction/selective elimination process, increased connectivity and integration of disparate brain functions, changing reward systems and frontal/limbic balance, and the accompanying behaviors of separation from family of origin, increased risk taking, and increased sensation seeking have been highly adaptive in our past and may be so in our future. These changes and the enormous plasticity of the teen brain make adolescence a time of great risk and great opportunity.”

So even though we sometimes look at our teens and think they have lost their marbles! What we really need to remember is that their teenage brains are especially equipped to take risks so that they can seize opportunities and build their futures.

What Can Parents Do About the Risks?

We have choices in parenting when it comes to our kids and risks. We put them in car seats, have them wear bike helmets, and teach them to look both ways before crossing the street. But by the time they are teenagers we are struggling to balance their true need to experiment and take risks with what we feel are safe choices. The truth is that if we wrap them in bubble wrap and stick them in a padded room, they might be safe, but they wouldn’t be able to take risks that involve opportunity. Opportunity is what we are ultimately seeking for our children. We want them to have opportunities to

  • Find their passions
  • Do well in school
  • Build strong relationships
  • Build their faith
  • Contribute to society

So we teach our children to run and grab hold of opportunities – and that means to teach them to take risks. It is frightening. Just last week an area teen died while duck hunting. I say an extra prayer every time my daughter drives away from home. But if I don’t allow them the opportunity to take risks, I don’t allow them the opportunity to grow, which is what I desperately want for them.

In the time it took for me to write this article, I received a text message from my husband: a priceless picture of my teenage son with his first buck. My son is spending invaluable time with his father, bonding over a family hunting tradition, and learning to be responsible when it comes to firearms. I never thought I would be quite so happy to send my child out with a gun and then see a picture of a dead deer in the back of the truck, but I know it is the opportunity and goal for which my son has been working. I know he is building relationships and learning skills that will help him seek and find new opportunities.

Some days I long for bubble wrap, but it is also good to know that teens are hardwired for risks, and that risks mean opportunity. Carpe diem. And then keep the bubble wrap in the closet for the other days.

Related posts:

  1. Risk Taking is Healthy for Kids
  2. The Language of Teens
  3. Nanny Personality and Risk Assessments – Benefits and Challenges

View full post on Parenting Tips For Raising Successful Kids |

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