Most parents don’t find many positive things to think or say when it comes to their teenager’s involvement in risky behaviors. To the contrary, such behavior is often a source of rifts in the parent-child relationship and strife within the family and school community. Conventional wisdom assures parents that teenaged brains are immature in the areas of reasoning, consideration of consequences of conduct, and impulse control. A “hold-tight and monitor closely” philosophy probably describes how many parents approach parenting their teenagers.
Newer research is supporting a more encouraging slant on the fact that teenagers and risky behavior can be almost synonymous terms. These studies seem to show that teenagers can make well-reasoned decisions somewhat on par with adult decision-making skills, unless they are around their peers, then all bets are off. It seems that for teenagers, the immediate social award of peer approval is far more compelling than the longer-term reward of engaging in more responsible decision-making.
The good news here is that this sensitivity to peer approval serves an important function. In order to function independently outside the family unit as an adult, our teens must learn how to get along with their peers and develop peer relationships. This is whom they will be living and working with once they leave home for college or in their careers. This same teenage desire to engage with their peers, to seek novelty and excitement, will also motivate them to broaden their world with new relationships, new interests and new skills that will propel them into becoming the independent adults valued by our culture.