Monday Mom challenge: Talk about risky behaviors

Feb 22, 2010 at 11:45 a.m. ET

When we think about talking to our kids about the "hard" topics, we often mean sexual activity and drug and alcohol use. While discussing these topics -- whether we or they want to or not -- is extremely important, they are not the only risky behaviors we need to discuss with our kids.

Mom talking to teen girl

Adolescents engaging in risky behaviors is nothing new. We likely did it, as did our parents before us. But that doesn't make it ok, or any less risky. Every two years, the Centers for Disease Control conducts a large survey of youth and risky behaviors. The questions -- and the results -- might surprise you.

What is "risky"?

A risky behavior is just about any behavior or decision untertaken with little or no forethought to the possible or probable consequences. Risky behaviors are often (though not always) decisions made "in the moment" and rashly. It's not just behaviors related to drug and alcohol use or sexual behaviors; it's things like unhealthy dieting, responding physically to anger or other emotions, not wearing a seat belt, using weapons, even lying or making bad academic decisions. The CDC surveys teens on many of these behaviors, and while progress has been made in helping our teens make better decisions, we still have a long way to go.

Why do they do it?

Adolescents are something in between: Not quite kids, not quite adults. They can be more responsible in some ways than their younger siblings, but the part of their brains that controls responsible decisionmaking isn't fully developed yet. They need nearly constant reminders of what it means to make good decisions -- from the decision itself to its possible outcomes. Yes, your teenager can seem so grown up at times -- as if she's capable of doing this on her own -- but she is not. Adolescents still need your guidance, even if they don't want it.

Keep talking

So what's a mom to do? Keep talking about every kind of risky behavior. Talk about specifics, and talk about generalities. Talk about decision making -- and how you will continue to be there to support and assist appropriate decision making. Talk about it at dinner and in the car, in passing and pointedly.

Just keep talking.

More on parenting teens:

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6 ways to tame teen behavior
Parenting humor: The joy of teen daughters