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How to address Risky Behavior in teens

If you’re reading this, you’re struggling to understand your teenagers’ risky behavior and hoping to find different ways to discipline, relate, or simply address the behavior with your teen.

But, before we begin to talk about how to address risky behaviors in your teen, let’s review what recent studies have determined.

The Facts:

In 2016, a research study tested how an imbalance activity between the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and nucleus accumbens (NAC) impairs adolescent behavioral inhibition. Therefore, the imbalance in the brain activities can increase your teens decision making in regards to risky behaviors.

However, in a more recent study, the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience has questioned that theory. After reviewing extensive literature Dan Romer and his colleagues report that it is not “raging hormones” or an imbalance of the brain, but rather behavioral activities that  teens need to explore and learn the world.

So, just like research, teenagers are also testing and trying out new theories that may or may not work for them in order to make bigger life decisions.

This is why the following ways to address risky behavior is important because understanding and having a supportive adult figure is viewed as a protective factor. The more protective factors your teen has the least likely they are to participate in extensive risk behaviors.

How to address risky behavior:

Have an open discussion.

Look for opportunities within society or TV shows.

There are plenty of sex, drugs, violence, and health related issues constantly around us. When an article, tv show, or radio channel discusses a risky behavior, take that opportunity to ask your teen their thoughts about the issue. A simple, “What do you think about that?” can open the doors to more questions.

Keep in mind that your teen may not always be open to discuss this topic. But by prompting the questions organically, you’re teen begins to develop a sense of awareness that you are not only being supportive to discussing the topic but also recognizing their growth and maturity.


Respectfully express your feelings as a parent.

When you are expressing your feelings communicate with the following 5 statements in mind.

  1. Take accountability as a parent and comment on any possible shortcomings. Some examples of these are: not spending enough time together, a current divorce, or working too much.
  2. Wear both shoes. What I mean by that is for you to put yourself in both your shoes and theirs. Elaborate on how the behavior makes you feel and empathize on how it makes your teen feel.
  3. Remind them you care.
  4. Ask for their perspective.
  5. Offer help.

The following statements may sound like:

“I noticed I’ve been working more hours this month and I’m sorry that I haven’t had more time for us to spend together but I see you’ve been smoking cigarettes. It hurts to see that smoking can actually give you a sense of relief a the moment but not enough relief to quit altogether. You know, no matter what, I’ll always love you and support your decisions even if at times it may not always feel that way. But I am concerned with your smoking habits and want to know what you know/feel about smoking and if I can help in any way?”

Expressing feelings respectfully, asking for their perspective and reminding them you care allows your teen to view you as another human not as a parent. This works in your benefit because they’ll eventually open up little by little.

Set rules.

Come to an agreement as to what’s reasonable and what’s not. Understand your teen will keep secrets from you and some with reason and other’s not.

By creating a list together (or with a mental health professional) of what what’s reasonable and what’s not (privacy vs secrecy), will allow both parties to understand what the expectations are if a risky behavior (or secret) goes too far.

That way, when a rule is broken. You can discuss the consequences then and inform your teen that those agreements/rules were made together.

Almost like a contract.

Explore your teen years with them.

Be open enough and discuss what you went through and what you learned. It’s wasn’t all bad so have fun with this!

Create a supportive household.

Invite your teen’s friends over and get to know them. By knowing their friends you can gauge more or less their level of exploration with risky behaviors.

Open door policy.

Allow your child to pop in and ask questions about life.

By not judging their questions/actions and allowing them to make mistakes and learn from them (easier said than done, I know), however it opens the door for growth.

This isn’t easy as a parent but is necessary for your teen to make mistakes and learn how to make decisions now than later in life. Remember, recent has shown it!

Discuss Values.

Explore with your child the values you share as a family and them as an individual.

You won’t always agree, but by understanding their values, as a parent you can ask if their risky behavior aligns with their values. They may just be exploring but there may also be other underlying issues.

Seek Medical/Professional help.

The goal is to decrease your teen’s risky behavior so you and your family have a healthy lifestyle. Sometimes that goal may be reached without the help of professional help.

However, if you know that none of the tips above have worked, please seek help from your general practitioner or contact me for a mental health professional in Miami.


Imbalanced Activity in the Orbitofrontal Cortex and Nucleus Accumbens Impairs Behavioral Inhibition

Meyer, Heidi C. et al.

Current Biology , Volume 26 , Issue 20 , 2834 – 2839

2 Why it’s time to lay the stereotype of the ‘teen brain’ to rest

Romer, D. Et al.