Healthy risk-taking

Young people take risks for thrill and as part of normal development. How can you support healthy and positive risk-taking?

Risk-taking behavior is part of normal youth development. It can help a young person build confidence and  strengthen decision making skills. Contrary to popular belief, risk-taking behavior can be healthy and help young people thrive. Many adults think of risk as a bad thing. There are certainly negative risky behaviors such as substance use, stunts that can result in serious injury, texting while driving and unprotected sex. Fortunately, there are many positive risks that can fulfill a young person’s need for thrill in a healthy way. As a parent, mentor or influential adult you can encourage or engage youth in these healthy activities.

Young people are predisposed to seek out the excitement risks can provide. They often take risks even when they are aware of potential consequences. The key to limiting dangerous risk-taking behavior is to supplement it with more appropriate risks. Here are some ideas for positive risk-taking activities for teens.

  1. Indoor rock climbing, riding rollercoasters and sports can provide a rush or thrill. Look for businesses that provide safety training and enforce safety rules.
  2. Run for a class officer position, try out for a team or a play. There is risk inherent to making oneself vulnerable to critique. Support a young person by helping him or her practice before tryouts or create a campaign for office.
  3. Try something new as a family or group. Often times risky behaviors are deemed exciting because they are new. Consider activities like kayaking, paddle boarding, trying a new food, taking lessons or going to a theme park. The risk is not always physical, it can be trying something that you may or may not be good at.
  4. Meet new people. Joining a club or making new friends involves a social risk.
  5. Study abroad, host an exchange student or take a college course. These activities expose a young person to new cultures and possibilities. Michigan 4-H offeres a variety of short and long term exchange opportunities.

Adults often punish youth for taking dangerous risks without acknowledging the young persons natural drive to seek out thrill. Rather than focus solely on punishment, consider what you can do to engage the young people in your life in healthy risk-taking behaviors.

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