It seems that for boys ‘risk taking’ is all part of growing up and is needed to test their skills, strengths, weaknesses and independence in the world.

Andrew Fuller, child psychologist and Generation Next speaker, says “We have a world that sanitises away risk, so that means risk becomes even more alluring. Boys are going to take some risks in some way, and you can either provide them with options to do that with you, or they’ll do it separately.”

So how can we give growing teenagers the space they need to take risks? Andrew feels that the best way for adolescent boys to take safe risks is for a parent or carer to do it with them. They need to know that they are loved and supported so the risk taking does not become dangerous or self destructive.

Dangerous risk-taking includes:
• binge-drinking
• smoking & drug taking
• dangerous & aggressive driving
• aggressive & bullying behaviour

Tips on how to encourage safe ‘risk taking’ in teenage boys
1. Take the risks together: parents and teachers can model how to safely navigate new and risky situations. Be curious yourself, show a desire to try new things and have adventure. It could be something like staying in a youth hostel for the weekend, or anything that takes you out of your comfort zone and makes you rely on your inner resources.

2. Social risks: for many teenage boys meeting new people and making good judgments about the friends they choose is a huge social risk and one that they worry about as they want to be accepted and have friends. Join a sporting club with them, or introduce them to different social and cultural groups so they become relaxed and confident around new people.

3. Make a positive contribution: teenage boys are confident, competent and capable but we often ask too little of them. If they feel they are making a positive contribution to the world around them then they are less likely to participate in destructive risky behavior. Give them a sense of responsibility and belonging.

4. Motivate and reward: if they feel valued and safe then they are less likely to take negative risks. Help them take risks that have a positive outcome by giving rewards, regular feedback on how they are going, reassure them that they are loved and valued and let them know what sort of behavior you expect from them.

5. Boundaries: make it very clear what their boundaries are and that there will be consequences if these boundaries are crossed. Boundaries actually help teenage boys feel that there is a safety net and security around them. Not tight enough to stop them experimenting and trying new things, but in place so that if they stumble and falter they know they will be supported. Have house rules, know how much money they have, who their friends are and if possible talk to their parents about parenting styles. It is also important for adolescent boys to know that if they keep to the rules then they will be given greater trust and freedoms.

Associate Professor Susan Towns, head of the Department of Adolescent Medicine at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, says “It’s about creating boundaries. They respond to structure. Certainly during the adolescent years they push the boundaries and it’s the parents’ job to say what’s appropriate and what’s not.”

She concludes “We don’t want boys to feel as though they can’t chase after their dreams … but it’s a matter of being safe and supported and knowing how to do that.”

Research shows that the best parenting approach to support boys through this time is one that is loving, but firm – high warmth, high structure, high supervision and guidance done in a supportive way.

If you feel that the behaviour of an adolescent boy you know is putting him in danger, you can contact your local health professional or  The Department of Adolescent Medicine for help.

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source:  Department of Adolescent Medicine. Andrew Fuller.