Keeping Teens Safe

If you are the parent of a teen, there is probably no greater concern you have than his or her safety. Whether heading off to school, or an outing with friends, it is likely you have said it a thousand times, “Be careful!” Parents worry about accidents, Internet predators, and the temptation for teens to be enticed by cigarettes/vaping, alcohol, and drugs. It does not help when stories of teens injured or killed by some of these means appear in the news. Even a seemingly fun activity like swimming with friends can go horribly wrong, as a recent story from Washington State demonstrates. A group of teen friends, boys and girls, were taking turns jumping from a 60-foot bridge to the water below, despite the posted sign not to dive or jump from the bridge. As video from one teen’s phone depicts, the soon-to-be injured 16-year old girl was clearly having second thoughts about jumping, and that was when another girl, her 18-year old friend, pressured her to jump and eventually pushed her off a small ledge. The result: the younger girl sustained serious injuries, including broken ribs and a punctured lung. Medical experts stated it could have been much worse, and she is lucky to be alive. Her friend is dealing with another type of fallout, including potential charges of reckless endangerment. According to government statistics, this event was far from unusual, as accidents (unintentional injuries) are the leading cause of death for teens 15-19, both boys and girls (CDC, 2015). Why would teens take such chances, and engage in such a potentially deadly stunt?

Why Teens are Drawn to Risky Behaviors

While teens continue to experience growth spurts in the brain, it is now known that the prefrontal cortex, responsible for logic and planning, is not fully developed until approximately age 25. Thus, teens have trouble envisioning the likely consequences of some of their impulses, and their youth and inexperience only compound the problem. In addition, adolescence is typically a time when teens begin to look more towards their peers for acceptance, and distance themselves from mom and dad. Peers, popular culture and social media heavily influence teens in terms of their behavior, as teens see others like themselves posting YouTube videos and snapchat images of less-than-desirable behaviors. Parents are left wondering what to do to prevent their children from causing harm to themselves and/or others.

What Parents Can do to Mitigate Teen Risk-taking

Although parents may not be the primary influencers in their teen’s life, there are still actions they can take to boost their teen’s safety and mitigate risk-taking:

• Talk to your teen about stories such as the one discussed above. Ask questions of your teen, such as “What would you have advised that 16-year old to do?”, and “How do you think that 18-year old feels about what she said and did?” Also, “Have you ever been in a situation where a friend tried to get you to do something with which you were uncomfortable?”

• Role play situations your teen might encounter. Let your teen practice what to say and do in situations where he or she might be pressured by a peer to do something, potentially putting him or her at risk of physical harm or legal troubles, and possibly others as well.

• Finally, introduce the concept of healthy boundaries, the idea that good relationships with friends and others should be a combination of connection and separation. Your teen may share interests and a bond with a friend, but he or she is still an individual with his or her own thoughts, feelings, preferences, and values.

To conclude, keeping teens safe, and helping them to develop healthy boundaries are just some of the concerns parents face. If you are a parent of a teen, and you would like some assistance with these issues, please consider family counseling, and call me at your earliest convenience.
Lisa Johnson, LPC


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