The Healthy and Unhealthy Risks of Adolescence

Taking risks in life is necessary. It’s the way to grow, to stretch yourself, and to test your own self-limitations. However, in adolescence there are healthy risks to take and some not so healthy risks. This article will explore both of these and the differences behind them.

As you can imagine, unhealthy risk-taking includes those that could lead to death, disability, and social problems. In fact, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is an organization that protects individuals from injury and illness. In their Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, for example, they monitor six top risk behaviors that can threaten a teen’s life.  These are:

  1. Behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence – According to the CDC, there are certain risky behaviors that lead to unintentional injury, such as riding a bicycle without wearing a helmet, not wearing a seatbelt when riding as a passenger in a car, riding in cars with drivers who had been drinking, and texting or emailing someone while driving a vehicle.  Furthermore, the CDC recognizes behaviors among teens that specifically lead to violence such as carrying a weapon, carrying a gun specifically versus other weapons, being in a physical fight, experiencing being hit, slapped, or physically hurt intentionally by a boyfriend or girlfriend (dating violence), avoiding school because of its lack of safety, experiencing bullying, or considering and/or attempting suicide.
  2. Sexual behaviors that lead to unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases – In addition to the behaviors listed above, there are risk factors that contribute to unintentional pregnancies and diseases, such as having intercourse before the age of 13, having multiple partners, not using protection during intercourse, not being tested for HIV, drinking alcohol or using drugs during or before intercourse.
  3. Alcohol or drug use – Risky behaviors regarding alcohol or drug use include having at least one drink during their lifetime, currently drinking on a regular basis, having five or more drinks in a row (binge drinking experiences), trying other drugs such as cocaine, inhalants, heroin, methamphetamines, steroids, or prescription drugs.
  4. Tobacco use – Behaviors that lead to tobacco use include trying cigarette smoking, smoking an entire cigarette before the age of 13, smoking a cigarette at least once in a week, and using various forms of smokeless tobacco.
  5. Unhealthy dietary behaviors – Risky behavior that leads to unhealthy diets include not eating the right amounts of fruit or drinking fruit juices, not eating any vegetables, not drinking milk, drinking sugar based drinks such as sodas, not eating breakfast.
  6. Inadequate physical activity – Risky behavior that leads to lack of physical health is not getting enough exercise, which includes the following risk factors: not doing any cardio activity in the last week, not attending Physical Education classes, playing video games or spending time on the computer for 3 or more hours per day, watching television for 3 or more hours per day.

On the other hand, some healthy risks include:

  1. Pushing the limits of your body – Because of the changes that take place during adolescence, you are likely experiencing changes in your body. To explore these changes and to facilitate strength and power, you might try joining a sports team, joining a gym, learning a new sport, riding your bike more often, going for a hike, or signing up for a marathon. Take risks with the growing strength of your body.
  2. Expanding your mind – Another part of you that’s changing rapidly is your brain. To explore the limits of your mind and it’s abilities, take a class in a subject you know little about, read books and magazines on a subject you want to learn more of, learn a new language, travel or study in a foreign country, or have intellectual conversations with others who are thought provoking. Take risks with the limits of your mind and push your intellectual boundaries.
  3. Nurturing your spirit – To learn more about your spiritual nature, you can take some risks there too. Often, teens are expected to stay within the religion or spiritual tradition of their families. However, it’s important to read about and study other traditions in order to make a clear decision for yourself the spiritual or religious path you will choose. To do this you might become active in a church or synagogue. Volunteer for a community project. Talk to an older generation about their spiritual experiences, take long walks by yourself, write in a diary, or sit at the edge of the ocean and consider your place in the universe.

Risks are important to take, no matter what age you are. The important thing to remember, however, is the consequences of those risks. Will they lead to danger? Or will they lead to fulfillment, meaning, and growth? The types of risks you take are up to you.