Risky behavior

7 Ideas for Reducing Risky Behaviors in Teens

By Erica Patino

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Teens with learning and attention issues may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as alcohol and drug abuse or unprotected sex. These suggestions may make your teen less likely to do so.

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Parent instructing her son in home chores
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Make rules and stick to them.

Rather than giving your teen more freedom just because he’s older, it may be good to have your teen show he’s responsible enough for his freedom. You can do that by making rules and sticking to them. Don’t make rules up on the spot. Discuss rules ahead of time with your teen so he clearly understands them. “Your curfew is 10:00 on Friday night. If you’re going to be any later than that, send me a text message. If that doesn’t happen, you won’t be able to play video games for a week.” Then stick to it.

Mother observing her teen daughter shopping for blue jeans
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Let your teen make decisions.

Setting rules for your teen is important. It’s also good to start letting him make some decisions. He’ll need to make decisions once he becomes an adult, so this can be practice. If your teen comes home and says he wants to quit the football team, you may not want to automatically say no, for example. Talking to him about why he wants to quit might be a better option. You could ask him if he’s willing to give it another month before he quits. This can help your teen understand that it’s good to think through decisions.

Parents and their two teen children eating breakfast together
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Provide structure and routine.

Teens who spend a lot of time unsupervised may be more likely to get into harmful situations. And teens who feel close to their families are less likely to engage in risky behaviors. If possible, set up a time once a week when your family has dinner or does a fun outing together. You can also build structure into your child’s schedule: “You can hang out with Tommy after school, but I’d like you back by 4:00 to start homework.” Routines, like wake-up and lights-out times, can also help.

Grandmother greeting her grand daughter and her friend outdoors at an ice cream stand
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Get to know your teen’s friends.

Who does your teen spend time with? Teenagers tend to get a lot of their beliefs from parents and friends. Encourage your teen to invite friends over so you can meet them. You could also get to know their parents. If your teen’s friends are engaging in risky behaviors, or you suspect they are, you may want to steer your teen to healthier friends by having him sign up for extracurricular activities he likes. Keeping your child busy in a safe, structured environment may prevent him from making bad choices.

Teen boy working with a mentor in the library
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Help your teen find a mentor.

It’s normal for teens to start pulling away from their parents. But you may also want to introduce your teen to other adults and older kids who can be a good influence on him. A mentor is a role model your teen can look up to, such as a relative, sports or music coach, or an older child with learning and attention issues. Having a mentor can make a teen less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs. Find out more about the benefits of mentoring.

Mother waving to her teenage daughter on the school bus
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Let your teen know you care about him.

Teens might sometimes feel like they can’t do anything right—especially those with learning and attention issues. Let your teen know you care about him and that he can come to you with problems. This could make him less likely to engage in risky behavior than a teen who feels unconnected. Give hugs and provide a shoulder to cry on when he has a bad day. Praise him for the things he’s doing well, and acknowledge his efforts: “I know English class is tough this year. I’m proud of you for keeping up with the reading.”

Father and son hanging out together listening to music and talking at a street cafe
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Address your teen’s learning and attention issues.

Studies show that teens who get help for their learning and attention issues are less likely to engage in risky behaviors than those who don’t. Ask your teen what is or isn’t working. If the current approaches or treatments aren’t working, see if he’s willing to try other options. Getting help can boost your teen’s self-esteem and lead to greater academic and social success.

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About the Author

Portrait of Erica Patino

Erica Patino is an online writer and editor who specializes in health and wellness content.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Jenn Osen Foss

Jenn Osen-Foss, M.A.T., is an instructional coach, supporting teachers in using differentiated instruction, interventions and co-planning.

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