Help Your Teen Focus on Healthy Risks
Developmentally, the teen brain is poised to take risks. It is important to urge teens to take healthy risks. When we encourage them to take risks in athletics, the arts, in business or in helping others we help them develop a positive lifestyle. Potentially they will develop positive lifetime habits. These activities help the developing forebrain develop in a more healthy way.
We will help them avoid the consequences of negative risks. Negative risks — experimenting with drugs, speeding, cheating on a test, shoplifting, riding with a drunk driver, etc. — often have negative consequences.
Lots of times, our teens give in to temptation by believing “Nothing bad is going to happen to me.” Their brains aren’t optimally wired to stop and think first. Urge your teen to take healthy risks. He may develop a stronger brain and some valuable life skills in the process. Ask your teen what turns him on. He’s the expert. Here are a few questions that can jump start your talk.
“What makes you the happiest?”
“To you, what’s the most valuable thing in the world?”
“What’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever done or can imagine doing?”
“If you had eight hours to do whatever you wanted, what would you do?”
Is it a physical thing that makes him happy? Or an emotional one? Once you know, you can look for healthy risks that produce the same feeling.
The two best ways to keep your teen out of trouble are to keep tabs on what he does and to steer him toward healthy risks. In fact;
Teens who take healthy risks:
- Are 20% more likely to avoid alcohol or drugs than other teens.
- Believe they are more responsible, confident, successful, and optimistic than other teens
- Tend to think about negative consequences before doing something.
Make a date with your teen or invent some other reason to get together. Use that time to find out what inspires him and why. There may be lots of healthy (and cheap!) opportunities right in your community – trying out for a sports team or auditioning for a play, for example. For kids in the Mansfield community you can volunteer at the Wesley Mission Center.
Go to http://www.wesleymissioncenter.org/serve.html they have opportunities for the summer for kids as young as 10 to volunteer. Try getting ideas at the library, his school, or your place of worship. Or from sites like these: Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD): http://www.sadd.org/ has loads of ideas and information about positive activities and risk-taking written from a teen’s point of view. What Kids Can Do: www.whatkidscando.org Includes interviews with teens who took risks and “created “powerful learning with public purpose.”
Smart Girls Know: http://www.smartgirlsknow.com/ Contains articles and lists of books, magazines and sites all aimed at giving girls ideas and encouragement.
Once your teen settles on something, he may need help getting started. (Remember, his planning and strategy skills aren’t developed yet.) Just be careful not to overdo it. Giving him too much help may wreck his self-confidence. When your teen spends time and energy working on a cause she feels passionate about, she gets to see and feel her impact on the world. She also gets some great practice at planning and thinking ahead, both of which make her brain stronger.
Help your teen to find a focus for her interests.
Most teens are full of enthusiasm, but low on specific ideas. Brainstorming can help them find the perfect meaningful activity. Here are a few questions to kick-start the conversation:
• If you had a year to change the world, what would you do? What if you only had a week? Or a day?
• If you had $1 million to give away, who would you give it to? Why?
• What do you think would make our community a better place to live? If your teen says something off-the-wall like “I want to fly a glider around the world to make people think more about air pollution.” don’t say a word. Write down the idea — no matter how silly you think it is — and keep the flow going. That’s how brainstorming works.
For inspiration, see what other teens are doing.
If your brainstorm turns out to be a bust, check with schools, places of worship, the local Y or the Chamber of Commerce to learn what’s happening in your community. There may be dozens of options close to home — serving meals at a shelter, reading to the blind, teaching computer skills to senior citizens, and so on. If none of those ideas inspire her, go global. There are thousands of resources on the Web for teen volunteers, including:
Then help her run with her idea.
You probably won’t find “good planner” on your teen’s Top Ten Talents list. (That part of her brain is still developing.) So once she settles on an idea, help her get started by asking some questions: “Who do you call to volunteer?” “How much time do you want to give?” “How will you get there?” “What clothes or skills or tools do you need?”
If she gets off track, don’t step in right away to help. Let her struggle a bit to find a solution. (It’ll make her brain stronger.) If she’s gotten discouraged or lazy, give her a pep talk. If she still won’t move forward, there’s probably a good reason. Maybe her life is too busy, and volunteering would only stress her out. In that case, let it go. She’s got plenty of years to make her mark on the world.