S Stands for… Safety

As difficult as it can be for parents to hear, the terms ‘adolescence’ and ‘risk-taking’ go hand in hand. Teens relentlessly push boundaries, challenge rules and test their own limits. Physiologically they operate with an underdeveloped capacity for impulse control and many parents are surprised to hear that this part of the brain is not fully developed until aged around 25.

Because this is part of their march towards adulthood, it means there’s the chance your teen is at least contemplating some potentially unsafe behaviours. There is also the ‘rush’ that comes from high-risk behaviour, which can lead teens into even riskier behaviours and for some teens it becomes a slippery slope.

Aside from their inbuilt risk-taking tendency, teens also have a heightened need to be accepted by their peer group. This means they’ll consider blindly following what others are doing without considering the consequences associated with certain behaviours.

It’s not all doom and gloom however … because although a certain degree of risk-taking is a fairly normal part of a teen’s development, the majority of adolescents do NOT take it to the extreme.

That said, this period can certainly be a harrowing time, but a parent’s best strategy is to maintain open communication and talk honestly about the potential consequences of certain risky behaviours.  The tendency to over-react or panic won’t be helpful in dealing with a teen risk taker as they are quite likely to switch off without hearing the intended message.

Some common risks to be aware of…

There’s absolutely no definitive list of possible risky behaviours that (a) may entice your teen and (b) worry the hell out of you. Besides, teen culture is evolving and so are risk-taking trends.

That said, there are certainly some common risks for parents to be aware of. Such as, those associated with:

  • Driving and lack of road experience
  • Unsafe substance abuse – alcohol and drug
  • Stunts and ‘dared’ behaviour
  • Unsafe sexual activity
  • Physical violence
  • Risky cyber-activity which includes sexting, revealing too many personal details
  • Emotional behaviours which may compromise safety and well being
  • Criminal behaviours such as vandalism, willful damage

How to have conversations about safety without sounding like a wet blanket or scaremonger…

  • Keep calm and rational – let them know your concerns.
  • Explain that as a parent their safety is your responsibility.
  • Ensure the conversation is honest and respectful. Acknowledge their quest for freedoms, while reminding them of potential consequences.
  • Carefully share news and current events with them … not to worry … but to demonstrate you’re not being an alarmist.

You will never be able to pre-empt or prevent every risky behaviour, however there are certainly steps that can be taken to help you keep your adolescent safe.

… at parties

  • Ensure there will be appropriate adult supervision; make contact with the parents if you don’t know them.
  • Arrange to take and collect your teen from the party.
  • Have an arranged code or protocol for them to contact you for collecting them if they start to feel uncomfortable.
  • Know the friends they will be attending with
  • If* you are allowing them to drink (*I’m not discussing whether this is right or wrong here) provide a modest, set amount for them to consume and warn them not to accept drinks from others.

… online

  • Have clear expectations about how you expect them to conduct themselves online.
  • Stress that they need to inform you of any occasion they are subjected to cyber bullying or other online ‘attack’.
  • Set up a Google alert to be informed when information about them is being posted online
  • Monitor their online posts, photos and status updates to be certain they are not over sharing personal information

… emotionally

  • Your teen’s emotional safety is more difficult to protect, as often they will become less communicative – persist in maintaining conversation and connection with them.
  • Share your feelings openly and model the communication strategies you are seeking.
  • Be aware of who is in their friendship group and encourage make solid, caring and respectful relationships.

Worksheet Download


Your CRASH Journaling prompts for this module…

  • What risky behaviours did you participate in as an adolescent?
  • Can you describe a time you’ve been genuinely worried about your teen’s safety. How did you respond?
  • How would you react to your teen doing the same?
  • What would you like to do differently should a similar situation ever arise?

Just to recap

As a parent of a teen, there is so much you worry about… right?

You possibly remember some risky behaviours you undertook as a teen and if these memories don’t scare you enough then the addition of smart phones and social media into the mix probably has you sweating.

There’s no patting your hand with a gentle “there, there” on this one because FACT is teenagers seek risks and rewards. It’s what they’re programmed to do.

As parents, we’re often left questioning our capacity to keep them safe because fingers crossed and a four leafed clover just doesn’t seem strategic enough.

The downloadable worksheet for this module will take you through developing a safety plan you can negotiate with your teen. Feel free to use it as is, or modify it to address specific behaviours or concerns.

Realistically, helping to keep your teen safe requires you to…

1] Maintain current knowledge of the risk taking behaviours teens are exposed to (some of which are the same risks you survived, but many are not) which include:

  • behaviours relating to unintentional violence
  • behaviours which can result in accidents or injuries
  • risky sexual behaviours which can lead to pregnancy, disease or exploitation
  • substance use – alcohol, tobacco or drugs
  • unhealthy lifestyle choices – around diet and sedentary behaviour
  • driving risks
  • online risks

2] Proactively put strategies in place to prevent or minimise risk eg:

  • curfews and rules around driving or being a passenger
  • providing safe places and activities for your teen to engage in
  • having clear and consistent expectations around these issues
  • having a plan in place that your teen understands and agrees to

3] Talk, talk, and do more talking about the issues openlyYour teen just assumes you won’t understand or don’t want to understand what life is like for them. They’ll probably also assume you want to put a dampener on all the fun when that’s not necessarily your agenda.

Keeping them safe starts with honest and hard-hitting discussions around these important issues.

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