Adolescents are risk takers. They love reckless behavior, sensation seeking, and risk taking. In one study, 80 percent of 11-and-a-half- to 15-year-olds exhibited one or more problem behaviors in a month, such as disobeying parents, school misconduct, substance use, and antisocial acts, including theft or fighting.
|Types Of Adolescent Identity Development|
Risk taking during adolescence is normal. Risk takers feel more accepted by peers and view risk taking as fun. Non-risk takers are seen as anxious and overcontrolled. Adolescents take risks for a variety of reasons:
- sensations of novelty - the desire for an adrenaline rush may be particularly strong,
- change or intensity of experience,
- to improve chances for sex,
- to reduce unhappiness, help them cope with stress, and
- risk taking can be seen as an attempt to gain real-life experiences of yourself and your environment.
There is no way you'll stop them taking risks. You've just got to find fun, positive ways for them to do so. Involve them in whitewater rafting, mountaineering, motocross, surfing, martial arts - anything you can think of!
This is a very important point for bright kids. Find acceptable ways for them to take risks and to achieve success,
Risk taking and drug experimentation
One way of relieving boredom is substance abuse. Some exploratory drug use is usual during adolescence. Worryingly, teenagers may become dependent more rapidly than adults. After peer substance use, perceived levels of stress most strongly predict adolescent alcohol and drug use.
Alcohol and cigarettes are often considered gateway drugs that can lead to more illicit drug abuse. Early use of alcohol powerfully predicts later alcohol abuse and dependence; it may also alter brain development.
Other risk factors - i.e., violence, criminal activity, risky sexual behaviors, teen pregnancy, and dangerous driving - cluster around early initiation into alcohol use, so it is worth trying to delay your child's experimentation with alcohol and drugs.
Anger and aggression
Aggressive behavior peaks during adolescence in a number of primate species. Aggression has its origins in the limbic areas, and particularly the amygdala, which relates to the emotions and shapes the "fight or flight" response (i.e., it works to defend you against threats or it tells you to run away from them). When emotional, adolescents have lower activity in their frontal lobes and more activity in the amygdala than adults. This means they are all set up for arguing and not so well set up for thinking things through.
The life trajectories of bright kids
Another way of viewing how bright kids develop is to look at the common pathways that kids follow as they grow up.
Pathway 1: Sailing through. It is important to remember that most bright kids get through their childhood and adolescent years well. Sure, there is going to be the odd rough spot. As with all teenagers, they will worry about getting a date, having too many pimples and not enough freedom. But most young people like their family, get on well with their parents most of the time, and maintain a positive sense of self.
Pathway 2: Puberty troubles. Around the onset of puberty is a time of lowered functioning for many bright kids as hormones, body growth, increased irritability, and mood swings can dominate their relationships during this time.
Pathway 3: Mid-adolescent conniptions. This trajectory is notorious in schools as a Year 8 or 9 phenomenon. This is a subgroup of bright kids who engage in aggressive or delinquent behaviors in their middle adolescent years. The great fear often expressed is that these young people will go on to take up lives of criminal behavior or drug addiction. Experimentation with risk taking is common with this group, and may be a way of expressing autonomy. Generally, these bright kids do not adopt a broader negative lifestyle.
Pathway 4: Turnaround. Life events and opportunities can contribute to an upturn in functioning. Some bright kids, as they grow, develop, and gain autonomy, are able to link up with a more adaptable adult. Others speak of a particular teacher or counselor who was able to inspire and support them; someone who believed in them.
Pathway 5: Adolescent decline. This is a group of young people who, as they reach their mid-adolescence, begin a decline often involving depression, aggression, and substance abuse that deteriorates through the late-adolescent years. These young people congregate with a troubled group of young people as their only way of experiencing social regard and success.
Their belief in their inability to fit in and to have some sense of personal success leads them to behave in ways that invoke in others responses that confirm this position of despair.
Pathway 6: Consistently poor functioning. This pathway relates to those who enter adolescence with a history throughout their childhood of problems or disorder. These young people have often grown up in poorly functioning families in the presence of substance abuse or violence.
What does all this mean for parents of bright adolescents?
A number of things:
- Realize that children and adolescents are not just a smaller version of adults. The growing brain is in transition: it differs neurochemically and anatomically from adults'.
- Realize that these changes can continue into the mid- to late twenties.
- Remember that teenagers' frontal lobes are "closed for construction." Don't expect teenagers to show a lot of forethought, planning, or consideration for others.
- Grab them by their emotions. If you want children and adolescents to team, make it emotionally relevant to them. Use their favorite TV shows to spark their interest.
- Bombard them with positives. This is the age where motivation gets tricky. Use rewards. Damn it, use anything you can think of to keep them intrigued. If, at the end of these years, they can say, "I like life, it's fun, and I can succeed (and my parents aren't that bad)," you deserve a medal.
- Tell them that you love them, and keep telling them.
- Be aware that too much freedom is not good.
- Last but not least, never underestimate your power. Bright kids need someone around them - an adult who has more options than they do, someone they may battle with, but someone who ultimately they imitate and emulate. And, believe it or not, that someone is you. The best way of maintaining at least the illusion of having more options than they have is to know how to repair the family when you need to.
To find out more, you can check out Types Of Adolescent Identity Development.