It's easy to feel frustrated when your teen is acting out. But teens who take risks have some of the greatest potential. Not all risk taking is bad—in fact, some of it can be beneficial!
The most common reason teens take risks is to communicate something. Sometimes it's an attempt at self-expression or getting attention, but other times it's a cry for help.
If your teen is taking risks because they're bored and looking for an adventure, then a safe space where they can talk about what they've done and how they feel about it is probably all they need. But if your teen is taking risks because they're struggling with mental health issues, then ongoing therapy can be helpful in navigating a way through difficult times.
Whatever the reason, it's important for teens who take risks to have a non-judgmental space to talk out their choices.
How Therapy Can Support Your Teen
Risk taking is a normal part of growing up. As teens navigate their way through adolescence, they may take risks in order to find their place in the world. Risk taking can include experimenting with drugs or alcohol, engaging in sexual activities, or even exploring other things like driving too fast. While some risk taking is normal, it's important that parents keep an eye out for warning signs that their child may need more intensive support.
If your teen is engaged in risky behavior and you're worried about them, therapy may be just what they need! Therapy can help teens by providing dedicated time where they can talk about their choices and explore the thought process behind their actions. By learning how to critically assess the decisions they make, teens will be better able to understand consequences and make informed decisions moving forward. Therapy can offer strategies to decrease impulsivity and practices for emotional regulation rather than acting out of hurt.
Going to therapy may seem like over-the-top measure, but it is different from other supports such as education or mentorship programs because these are often generic support. A trained professional with developmental expertise can offer a more thorough assessment and evaluation process, based on what your child is telling them and what is within the range of typical or not for teens. You can also receive specific parenting tools that are customized to your child, taking the guesswork out of what to do next.
Slowly but Surely
When it comes to choosing a therapist, it's important to find someone who is non-reactive to teen risk taking behavior and can give you a holistic understanding of possible factors at play. Risk-taking teens often need time to try things out before they fully course correct. Having a compassionate guide who can help you set appropriate limits can make the process smoother, while giving opportunities for teens to rise to the maturity challenge.
I'm an expert who's seen a lot of risk taking in teens, and I believe that teens learn best by experience—some of their boundary testing can actually be a sign that your teen is growing up! However, if they're doing things that could hurt themselves or others, then therapy is definitely a place for them: It's a place where they can explore their values and gain essential tools for life.