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How to help teenagers take risks.

Living with teenagers can be challenging at times, but it's also one of the most rewarding times for a parent or carer. Gone are the days of nappies and snack time, but there comes a new joy with seeing the way your little darling is turning into a man - even though sometimes it's a bit of a challenge (an understatement I can hear being murmured!).

As teenage boys grow their brain is also developing at different speeds and in different ways.

That's why it can often seem like your living with a monster. Honestly, he's not, but his brains biology can make it seem that way! In this post for example we're talking about risks... and why he seems to take too many of them!

So let's take a look at why they take those risks:

Firstly, as we have talked a bit about in other articles already, some of their behaviour they genuinely can't help. It's not their fault and they are in zero control of what they are thinking sometimes. Hormones play havoc and outside of eating right and getting a good amount of exercise, patience is your only ally here.

The male teenage brain appears to be hard wired for increasing amounts of risk taking. When they enter the pre-adult world and have access and freedom, a lot more opportunities present themselves to a young person. The brains tactics here is that by trying new things they are familiarising themselves with the outcomes and manageable levels of risk. It's basically the brains way of developing trial and error to try and keep the rest of the body safe.

Science suggests boys are perhaps pre-programmed to take greater risks that girls because of a pre-disposition to be independent. This eventually helps them learn how to spot dangers in the real world but can lead to destructive risk taking that you'd like them to avoid. Again, knowing this doesn't solve the behavioural problems - but it does at least give you the basis for understanding the behaviour.

Teenagers go through a development stage where they become predominantly focused on the rewarding feelings they experience when they are admired by their growing group of friends. This is where peer-pressure comes in. It's a really strong biological drive and isn't just because they are daft - it's because the body rewards the brain with feel good hormones when their friends are admiring them.

So what can we do about it?

This is easier said than done (of course!), and living with a teenager can be really hard, but by being the consistent, caring and supportive parent; you will genuinely be helping them navigate the path into adulthood. They won't always take your advice (otherwise it isn't a risk, so no reward) but if your caring message is always the same and is delivered with love, your in for a good chance of success.

Stick to the rules.

Be consistent, and as stable as you can be so your predictable. Yes, that might be the complete opposite of what they are doing, but consistency is really your friend here. Think of you being like the foundations of a house. If the foundation walls keep moving and changing in response to the changing weather then the house can't be supported. It's similar with teenagers: by staying consistent (with rules/behaviours/words/budgets etc) you'll be like a solid, safe set of foundations. He often won't like that, but the foundations allow him to figure out where to build.

He may tell you that he hates it, but actually all the time your consistent he's sketching out his wall foundations in his head - he's "feeling" where the edges are and where the next brick should go. Over time you'll see the fruit's of your building as well!

Be caring and available.

It's through navigating the storms together that you'll build a stronger attachment and healthier relationship. You don't have to be available all the time (often he'll ignore you anyway!), but he will pick up on your caring nature and even if he doesn't say it, he will appreciate it.

Being available is all about communicating something behind the conversation: I love you and am making time for you. So although you can't drop every task, by being available you'll be showing that he's safe and has a good place to come when he needs to talk. Sometimes being available is as simple as watching a TV program together - maybe you can find one you'll both enjoy (or be prepared to be flexible in your TV watching at least!).

Talk (when he allows it!)

Now, please don't hear us wrong here - we are not saying you should tend to his every whim, but if you get the feeling he wants to talk about something, give him every opportunity to make that as easy as possible. It doesn't matter to him if you have 101 jobs to do - even just for 2 minutes or 30 seconds at the right time is like you're investing in thousands of hours of relationship building. Even if your in the middle of something, pause and start the conversation, then when you need to get on with your jobs, just tell him you're going to put a pin in the chat and you can pick it up again later (during dinner for example).

Vocalising this is really important: you actually need to say it. Humans base a lot of decision making on social interactions and perceived thinking, so when he's trying to solve a problem he might need some "permission" to open up and share. If you've got a hunch he wants to chat about something, try saying something like "I think maybe you've got something on your mind, I just want you to know that when your ready, I'll make time to listen".

Throw him a grenade!

These are little grenades of love and positivity that you drop into a random conversation or moment to sow into his background thinking. It can be as small or as big as you think is appropriate, and you won't always get a reaction (often you won't - and that's what we're after). It works like this:

You know he's struggling with something at the moment (say he's had an argument with his special someone), it's getting him down and he's taking it out on you. Instead of telling him how his behaviour is out of order, turn the other cheek as it were, and drop little positive grenades into his life. You don't even have to be in conversation with him, just try something like walking past him in the lounge and giving him a compliment - it could be anything (maybe he did actually put his trainers away) - anything will do. Now, here's the key bit: don't stop and listen or expect a response (your not trying to chat to him), just say the short compliment and then turn and walk away. It's key to walk away - don't stop and wait for a reply, just literally walk away. It'll feel weird, but that's OK.

This does a few things:

  1. It makes him stop in his current thinking pattern and poses questions in his head (why did they say that? Are they right? I wonder why they came up with that? Why does that make me feel good? etc). This is called cognitive curiosity and is great at helping move someone on from a state of self-obsessed thinking and help develop empathy and emotional intelligence outside of their own emotional state.

  2. It builds a background attachment because ultimately humans are wired to be drawn to positive, safe, nice things and move away from nasty and unsafe things (to keep the body safe). So if we take our buildings analogy: it's a bit like giving him a brick. He might not use it right away, but you've given him a resource he will draw on and use in the future.

We've used this technique ourselves and it works especially well when you say it in a quite, gentle tone and then just walk away. Try almost an audible whisper - it's thought this intimate level of speech is linked to foeatal development where a baby hear's it's primary caregivers (aka mum and dad) and so a strong bond develops.

You could also think of it like throwing him a ball of wool and then once you've delivered your positive grenade, you've got him to hold onto one end of the wool. It doesn't matter where you go, your at the other end and he's got another connection to you. Do this enough times over a period of time and he'll have so many threads of wool in his hands it'll be impossible not to find his way back to you!

Even the most challenging of teens, over time, will adjust when these principles are put in place. Stay tuned for more tips and parenting teenage help as we go. In the meantime...

The DRUCEBOX shaving kit is a really useful tool here because it enable you to start building a bridge, without the danger of being over the top, invasive or distant. It's a really good way to show you care (by showing your thinking of him - remember the love grenade), but without being too "in their face" or over bearing. It's a great way to open the door to future conversations.


This article was written by James, DRUCEBOX founder and experienced Youth Advocate. James has worked with young people all his life in various faith, public sector and charitable settings. His experience has seen him and his partner foster teenagers, develop community support and work with council's to contribute to beneficial children's services. You can contact James here.

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