What is risk taking?
Testing the boundaries and trying new things occurs across all developmental stages from birth to old age. When it involves engaging in activities that have the potential to result in harm to oneself or others, it’s defined as risk taking. However, the potential for negative outcomes from their behavior, young people may not understand, particularly if it likely to improve the way their friends see them or seems exciting. Lack of insight means young people may engage in a high level of risk taking, despite having plenty of information available about what is unsafe or safe.
What types of risk taking do young people engage in?
Young people may engage in a wide range of behaviors, but the main types of risk taking are:
- Drug and alcohol use
One of the most common types of risk taking that young people engage in are the use of alcohol, tobacco, illicit or pharmaceutical substances. Binge drinking has the potential to cause irreparable harm and illicit drugs can contain harmful impurities. Sustained alcohol and drug use also has the potential to damage the development of young people’s bodies and brains. Despite alcohol and tobacco being legal from the age of 18 but many young people begin their use before this age.
- Unsafe sexual activity
During their teens, young people usually begin exploring intimate relationships. Sexual activity under the age of consent is not legal and unsafe sex can result in transmission of sexually transmitted infections or in a pregnancy.
- Risky online activity
The Internet provides the chance to connect with others and access to a wide range of information through smart phones, gaming platforms or social media. While it provides young people with many benefits, also there are numerous risks. Exposure to distressing content and images, online harassment or bullying from either unknown or known people, and grooming (by pedophiles) or cyber stalking are some examples of these risks.
- Hazardous or illegal activities
Developing their identity involves challenging authority by engaging in various types of dangerous or illegal activities, for some young people. Some may result in physical harm such as dangerous driving, vandalism or doing things for an excitement rush like jumping from heights or playing in traffic, etc.
- Gang involvement
Belonging to a group (known as a peer group) is very important to young people. Those who feel left out of the mainstream may end up just hanging out with an antisocial group of peers or joining a gang.
At times, gangs engage in substance use and illegal activity, and there is strong pressure on members to go along with the group and to conform. Gang members may affiliate with people from similar ethnic, cultural, geographical or religious identities.
- How can parents and carers help young people avoid taking risks?
The best way to know what young people are doing when they’re not at home is having good communication. You’ll know, this way, if what they do is likely to result in some type of harm.
Engaging in physical activity such as joining a sports team is one option, as are more creative outlets such as performing arts.