At just 8 months of age my youngest boy has a few bruises and bumps to show for his dare devil antics as he tries with superhero like determination to climb, crawl over things, under things, run, jump and fly. Well not quite, but I think he would if he could.
The body of a wee tot is not up to speed with all that his fast developing brain is trying to conquer, and nor is he ready to impart reason and consequence into the equation.
Throughout early childhood his body will start to catch up. He will be able to run and jump and climb trees with his brothers, relatively safe in the knowledge of what he is and is not capable of undertaking.
But then will come puberty and hormones and a teenage brain.
Once again this developing brain will want to take on the world.
Enter teenage risk-taking, no consequences, worry about it later behavior. And add to that the extra dose of testosterone as a bonus of his gender.
I have spoken before about the part of the brain that is responsible for reason and compromise and consequence and how for some reason this important development comes a little later on in life. Despite the many miracles that is the human body…this one could have done will a little more forethought!
So for some kids the lure of instant gratification is far more appealing than any well thought out plans. Suddenly filming crazy pranks and putting them up on youtube, hanging off the backs of cars on skateboards, and experimenting with excessive drinking and drug taking all seem like fairly acceptable choices.
Are we then as parents helpless to these influences of teenage years or can we try and ensure that their passage through to adulthood is balanced with an attempt to mould, teach and steer our kids towards safer pursuits, without wrapping them up in cotton wool. How do we find that balance between regulating crazy impulses with a healthy dose of exploration, independence and ownership of ones choices?
Here are a few things I believe we can do to help ride the wave of risk-taking behaviours:
Talk often about assessing risks. Talk about the consequences of other peoples behaviours. Talk about how things could be different if people sat back for a minute to assess a situation. Talk about options and choices and how vastly different outcomes can result from a little forethought. Try to bring it up in everyday conversation…we know they switch off the minute we start to nag or do the old “I told you so” .
Be a good role model. Let your kids know that you catch a taxi or have a designated driver should you be drinking. Don’t let them see you texting whilst at the traffic lights. (not that you would of course) Let them hear you weigh up options to decide on what is more likely to give the most favoured outcome. Discuss with them the pros and cons of why you have made certain decisions and allow them to have a hand in decisions that effect the family.
Give your kids a way out. Peer pressure is one of the most challenging aspects of a teenage existence and can be the reason for decisions that they may or may not be comfortable with. Give them some excuse to use should they find themselves in a situation they find difficult to handle. We have always told our son that smoking would make his asthma so much worse, so we are hoping he can always use that as an excuse if he ever felt pressured. Let them know to send a text message to you to ring with an excuse to pick them up if they are feeling compromised. Yes we want them to stand up for themselves, but social credibility can be way more important, so we may need to help them with a way out.
Keep a close eye without smothering. Finding that balance to let them grow with their independence, explore their place amongst their peers and society and give them the opportunity to make the right choices and test their abilities. A risk-taking teenager who rebels is even more dangerous, so make sure they know you are watching without following their every move. Listen when they are asking advice (often it may be in a roundabout way) so try to discuss rather than lecture.
So just as I cannot keep my eye on my 8 month old every second as he explores every corner of the house and garden, nor will I be able to follow him as a young adolescent teenager venturing off into the world. But by communicating early and often, and continuing to value that connection, we can hope that the risks will be ones that will allow him to grow and develop, and ultimately be kept safe.
Have your kids been taking part in any risky behaviours lately? And what sort of risky pursuits did you get up to (and survive) as a youth?