What a valuable, purposeful and honorable position you are in! Whether you’re a parent, family member, teacher, therapist, or friend, you have the opportunity to change a teen’s life! Perhaps you’re raising a pre-teen that has a wild side. Maybe you’re a teacher who wants to impact the students that spend most of their time with you. You might be a caring relative or family friend who understands the influence of positive relationships. You can change a teen’s future!
What are the risky behaviors that teens engage in? The most common are sexual activity, substance use, illegal behaviors and dangerous driving. You can view a more comprehensive and detailed list from the CDC here, which includes things like suicide and abuse.
If you’re concerned about your teen’s future, here are a handful of practical, applicable ways to prevent risky behaviors.
Adolescents who live with and get along well with their parents are less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors. Why? They have solid family routines and are both monitored and supported by their parents.
There is good news for all parents! Research does not show a difference between single-parent or two-parent households. Although single parents cannot supervise as frequently, teens who have a strong relationship with their parent(s) are more likely to avoid risky behaviors.
Be an actively involved parent.
Take an active interest in your teenager’s life by aiming for the three Ls: love, limits, and latitude.
- Love. It may be uncomfortable, but show your teen some love. Thankfully, love is personal and can take many forms:
- Give your child a bear hug after school (avoid early morning hugs, since at that hour most teens are like a bear waking up from hibernation)
- Share a blanket as you watch a movie together on the couch
- Buy their favorite treat as a surprise
- Simply say, “I love you.”
- Compliment what they are doing well (like earning an A in English class) while patiently discussing, not lecturing, areas for improvement (such as how they can improve their D in math).
- Encourage participation in extracurricular events, such as sports, clubs, or volunteer organizations.
- Show up to their soccer games, band concerts, awards ceremonies, or special events.
- Don’t reject their grand dreams, like starting up a rock band; instead, help them make that dream a reality.
- Do things together: play a board game, shoot hoops, go shopping, eat dinner together.
- And lastly, love your teenager by reminding them that you care, that you are there for him/her, and that you are always available to talk.
- Limits. Boundaries are essential; they are loving guidelines provided to help your adolescent understand what is and isn’t acceptable. But setting boundaries may also cause some teenagers to rebel.
- Prevent rebellion by deciding the rules together. Allow your teen to share their opinion, preferences, and desires. Ultimately you as the parent/guardian get to declare the final limits, but it is important to involve your teen in the decision. Remember that less is best - too many rules may become confusing and difficult to remember.
- Don’t forget that each rule should also have a specific consequence. For example, missing curfew could result in losing the privilege to drive for one week.
- Hold firm to the agreed upon punishment for the broken rule.
- Latitude. Autonomy and independence are some of the most important desires of adolescents.
- Teenagers will do best when they have the opportunity to make decisions. Offer choices, alternatives, and solutions that fall within the framework of your previously decided rules. These options are preparing them for adulthood when problems that need solutions will occur regularly.
- Encourage your teen to think through the logic and reasoning behind their decisions. Does your child want to quit soccer, a sport that he/she loves and has been playing since the age of 4? Rather than ending their career immediately, ask your teen to stick with it another month, and use that time to consider their reasoning to leave the sport.
Know where they are, who they are with, and what they are doing.
Another way to be relational is to be aware of where your teen is, who he/she is with, and what he/she is doing. Get to know your teen’s friends. Monitoring their friends, either directly or indirectly, is also a protective factor against delinquency. If you teen is hanging out with delinquent friends, he/she is more likely to engage in those same risky behaviors.
Don’t be an intrusive parent (because autonomy is important to your child!), but ask questions and be in the loop about their life.
- Who did they hang out with today?
- Which friends are they most engaged with on social media?
- What are the common activities that your teen and their friends do?
- Who comes over to your house most?
- Which friend’s house does your teen go to most frequently?
Talk about it.
Are you concerned that your teenager is engaging in risky behaviors? Talk about it together! There are a multitude of resources to help you have honest, authentic conversations about difficult subjects (see resources listed below).
Remember that the most risky behaviors teens engage in are sexual activity, substance use, illegal activity, and risky driving.
Communicating about these things doesn’t have to be forced. If you’re watching a television show or sports event together, it’s likely that a commercial for alcohol will be played. Use that as a conversation starter! You have roughly 3 minutes to bring it up and start the discussion. Then it won’t feel as forced or random when you bring it up another time to discuss it more in depth.
The same thing applies to sexual interactions. Most television shows or movies will have some form of sexual attraction involved. Don’t shy away from this; instead, use it strategically. Take your teen out to the movies and talk about those scenes afterwords over a milkshake or on the drive home.
(We are not advising that you take your teen to watch a rated R movie with explicit content. We are merely suggesting that most movies, even Disney movies, include elements of sexual attraction and sexual content. Depending on your teen’s age, this could range from holding hands, to kissing, to sexual intercourse.)
If you don’t talk with your teenager about sex, drugs, or alcohol, who will? Their friends, media, and social media! Rather than allow society to dictate social norms, you can influence the behaviors and choices of the teens in your life.
No adolescent is immune from struggles. But you, as a parent, relative, teacher, therapist, or friend, have the chance to impact a teenager’s future! Prevent the occurrence of potentially risky behaviors by being relational; present; aware of where they are, who they are with, and what they are doing; and by simply talking about it.
Yes, you may feel ill-qualified. It’s understandable that you want to avoid uncomfortable situations. You probably believe that someone else will step in. But why chance it? Why wait for someone else?
You are fully equipped because you love and care for them. Jump in! Doing so can change their life!