Risk-taking and Teens: A Delicate Balance

Risk Taking And Teens

Episode Description

People tend to perceive risk as being inherently negative. But for teenagers, risk-taking is a healthy, normal, and important part of growing up. In this episode of Mind Your Mind, Host Tim Unsinn talks to Vanessa Lien, Nurse Practitioner at Dakota Family Services, about creating a safe environment for your teenager to take risks—and knowing when to step in when they start taking risks that could result in serious and long-term negative consequences.

What to Expect

  • Learn about risk—both positive and negative. 
  • Understand why teens take risks.
  • Learn how to reduce risk-taking by building connections and involving children in decision-making. 
  • Explore ways to model healthy risk-taking. 


Things to Think About

  • How will you support your teen?
  • How can you create a safe environment for healthy risk-taking?
  • How can you stay involved in your teenager's life?

About the Guest

Vanessa Lien 2019 (2)

Vanessa E. Lien, DNP, APRN, NP-C - Nurse Practitioner, provides outpatient diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric and behavioral health conditions, as well as medication management to clients of all ages.

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Transcript
Risk-taking and Teens: A Delicate Balance

Featuring Vanessa Lien, Nurse Practitioner, Dakota Family Services

Host Tim Unsinn:
Welcome to Mind Your Mind, a podcast presented by Dakota Family Services, an outpatient behavioral health clinic located in Minot, Bismarck, and Fargo North Dakota. In this podcast, I will talk with our experts about understanding and nurturing our mental health and wellness. I'm your host, Tim Unsinn. Join me each episode as we explore the intricacies of our minds, decrease the stigma of mental illness, learn practical tips for managing our mental health and well-being, and recognize when it's time to ask for help. Join me now to Mind Your Mind. Welcome to this episode of mind your mind.

Our guest is Vanessa Lien. Vanessa is a nurse practitioner and provides outpatient diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric and behavioral health conditions, as well as medication management of clients to all of all ages, Vanessa. It's great to have you on Mind Your Mind.

Vanessa Lien:
Thank you for having me. I'm happy to be here.

Host Tim Unsinn:
Our topic is going to be healthy risks, but you know the routine. Before we get to the topic of the day, we ask you, "Why do you do what you do?"

Vanessa Lien:
Well, one of the main reasons that I do what I do...as a nurse practitioner, I really have that opportunity to improve mental health of patients and also at the same time, improve that quality of life. So I can weigh and treat the impact of having a mental illness on my patients, and also help them just to function better in society. And one of the highlights to me is the tremendous amount of research that's happening in neuroscience. And we're only just beginning to understand the complicated system of our brains and how it affects our behaviors. So psychiatry to me is just very intellectually stimulating and challenging, and I knew I would never get bored in this field.

Host Tim Unsinn:
Great answer. Love that. Why you do what you do, healthy risk. Okay. So when we first started talking about healthy risk, I mentioned to you that it sounds like an oxymoron healthy risk, but what is risk taking and is it normal?

Vanessa Lien:
Yeah, it does seem kind of like an oxymoron. Risk, by definition, is just a choice. It's choices that we make with an uncertain potential outcome. And that can be a desirable or undesirable outcome. So in comparison, it'd be winning money in a bet, or losing money. So desirable and undesirable. And in general, people tend to perceive risks as being inherently negative things. And this really isn't true. So risk behaviors, they fall along a spectrum. On one end of this spectrum are the negative risks, which are generally perceived as being, you know, antisocial, maybe dangerous or harmful. And on the very other opposite end are positive types of risks, which are socially acceptable risks that maybe have the potential to benefit a person's well-being. And they have less severe or dangerous potential consequences. In general, risk-taking behavior is a normal part of development and it can help people build confidence and really strengthen their decision-making skills. And for our adolescents and teenagers, risk-taking is really about teenagers finding out who they are and exploring boundaries that exist.

Vanessa Lien:
So risk taking is really important to know that it's not about a teenager being rebellious and it's actually an essential part of identity development for teenagers. So contrary to popular belief, risk-taking behavior can be healthy, and help people thrive. Now on that note, children really are more likely to take risks than adults because the different parts of the brain are maturing at different times, which is kind of what we talked about in our last session. Now, the part of the brain that's in charge of self-regulation and really thinking through consequences matures later than the part of the brain that is impulsive and reactive. So it's kind of natural for a teenager to engage in a behavior and that results in maybe a parent or an adult saying, "What on earth were you thinking?"

Vanessa Lien:
So part of raising a child is helping the child define those boundaries. And it's a balancing act that really requires knowing when to let a child take risks in a safe environment versus taking risks in a situation where they could endanger themselves or even other people. And again, this being a normal part of development and knowing that risk-taking behavior increases from childhood into adolescence and then it starts to decrease in adults as those brains mature. So don't let that fool you though. Adults have patterns of risk-taking too. So think, for example, what they are and make sure that you're always modeling good behavior when you're around your children. For instance, I tell parents, "Drive in the car as if you want your child to drive, and if you make a mistake, make sure you talk about it." If you ran that stop sign or didn't stop completely, bring it up right away and say, "Hey, I really did not stop for the appropriate amount of time. That's pretty dangerous and someone could get hurt." Bring it up and have one of those crucial conversations.

Host Tim Unsinn:
I'm glad I didn't model driving for my daughter because she's a great driver, very cautious, unlike her dad. So we talk about healthy risk-taking. How can we support healthy risk-taking?

Vanessa Lien:
Healthy risk taking can really build confidence and help teach some of those natural consequences. So unfortunately, without guidance, teenagers can really take some risks that result in some serious and long-term consequences. So, you know, one thing we think of a lot when talking about teenagers and risks is texting and driving. So doing that texting and driving can really have some potential, even life ending, it could be fatal if there was to be an accident. So there's several ways that we can support healthy risk taking in children and adolescents. And the first thing is by providing healthy options and alternatives. So providing teenagers with options for risk-taking provides the thrill that they're being, that they're seeking when they're doing and taking risks, with minimal negative consequences. And again, another thing that I encourage is modeling and labeling positive behaviors. So always keep in mind that your behavior influences your child.

Vanessa Lien:
So again, discuss with your child, the positive behaviors that you choose and why you chose them. So if you take a risk that you don't want your child to take, acknowledge it. So again, "I drove in an aggressive manner. It was risky. I put us in harm's way and I apologize for doing that." Make that apology and talk with them about what happened and why you would make that choice differently next time. So another thing in research we see is like teenagers who tend to drink a little bit more often, use alcohol, typically a lot more than not come from households where their parents maybe drank a lot. So again, teenagers model their parents. So even though we may think that your teenagers ignoring you, which a lot of times it seems like, they really are watching. So that's important to know another step would be to talk with your child about risk taking and healthy decision-making.

Vanessa Lien:
So have those ongoing conversations about risks, healthy and unhealthy, and the potential consequences and make sure the conversation is always in a dialogue and not a lecture. I mean, we know teenagers just don't respond well to lectures. So engage in a conversation and hear their point of view too. So in day to day life, if you guys are watching a movie together, maybe turn the question back to them. Like, "What did you think about the decision that that main character just made." Have the conversation, you know. When your teen is out with their friends and maybe they start doing something that you're not comfortable with, maybe alcohol, drugs, anything like that, how are you going to handle that? Or if something has happened and you're struggling with a decision that your teen has made, just verbalize, "I'm really struggling to understand that decision you just made."

Vanessa Lien:
Help me get a better sense of what went on in your mind and what went into the decision and this will help guide some of those crucial conversations to have with the kids. And another important factor is to really develop deep social support system for kids. This really supports healthy risk taking and research suggests that the wider range of social support available to a teenager. So having parents that are supportive, family, friends makes it less likely that a teen will engage in unhealthy risk-taking behaviors. So involve your child in like different community events and support healthy relationships between your child and the social supports around you. So these may be things, again, like friends, relatives, church communities different afterschool activities or sports leagues, you know. As kids, we turn to our coaches as mentors and really look up to them. So those are just some ideas.

Vanessa Lien:
Another tip would be to make sure you're promoting family connectedness to reduce risk-taking. So when children really feel connected to their families, the likelihood of making poor choices and taking those unhealthy risks, really diminishes. So I encourage parents to involve children in decision-making. Involve them in setting the rules and expectations, and maybe at night time share about their day or how your days were over a meal. And so some of the dialogue that might come around that, just to give an example. "So What are some ideas about what we should do today? You know, it's a Saturday, we have the whole day off, what are some ideas that you have about what we could do?" Or maybe another thing in, in the teen years as maybe establishing a curfew? So "I have some thoughts about possible curfew times, but I want to hear you out and listen to your thoughts before making that final decision." It kind of gets the teens to have a little buy-in.

Vanessa Lien:
Those are some interesting ways to kind of engage the kids. Another important fact is also monitor your child and stay involved with them. So parental monitoring and involvement, it really has a positive influence on risk-taking behavior in kids. So know where your child is, first of all, and check and see if they are where they say they're going to be. And that doesn't have to be, you know, something like following them in a car and making sure they go but just a quick text. "Hey, Just checking in to see how things are going?" Or even a quick text to the parents. "Hi, I'm just checking to see how little Billy is doing over at your house." So stay involved in your kids' lives, know their friends and know their friends' parents as well. It really helps if you work hard and develop a trust in your relationship and look for opportunities to show that you're trusting your child.

Host Tim Unsinn:
You are listening to Mind your Mind. Our guest on this episode is Vanessa Lien and Vanessa has been talking healthy risk, a lot of great information. Final question for you before we let you go. What do you do personally, to mind your mind?

Vanessa Lien:
I personally mind my mind by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is something that allows me to be fully present and aware of what I'm doing, where I am, and just kind of where I'm at in the day. And I also like to practice meditation, and that is something that allows me to kind of venture into the workings of my mind, the sensations, my emotions, thoughts, and just really keep me grounded.

Host Tim Unsinn:
Vanessa, it has been great having you on Mind Your Mind, a lot of great information, a lot of information that I think as parents, maybe our kids are grown and gone, but this is information we listen to, that we can share with others. So thank you so much for your time. Thank you so much for your talent.

Vanessa Lien:
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Host Tim Unsinn:
Thank you for joining us for Mind Your Mind, a podcast presented by Dakota Family Services. You can't have health without behavioral health. Remember to mind your mind. For more information links to additional resources, contact information, and much more go to DakotaFamilyServices.org.

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