Ask any embattled parent about their teenager’s attitude to risk and you will get the same worldwide answer. In fact they don’t really need to say anything – the look of sheer terror is another universally recognised badge of honour. We all know that teenagers are a danger to themselves and the wider world -we’ve all been there, done that ourselves and that at best we can wave sleep goodbye for the next 10 years (well we’d done that when we’d had them as babies and foolishly thought things would improve when they went to secondary school) – so why do scientists keep trying to do studies about teenage attitudes to risk?

One of the latest tests (done by scientists in Massachusetts), because of ethics, couldn’t specifically test whether they would really jump off a cliff, have sex with a stranger or drive far too fast, so instead they did a test involving pumping up a balloon, which seems to me like a really silly thing to test. Because teenagers will of course want the balloon to POP or where’s the fun? It just isn’t quite edgy enough to prove anything very much. But don’t worry – we all know that is the case already.

Unless parents have locked their children up or live in the middle of nowhere (which is impossible these days) or are totally oblivious to their children’s behaviour we will all no doubt have experienced the exact same fear that you can smell when your teenager hasn’t answered their phone for several hours late at night, or haven’t come back at the designated time, or aren’t where they say they are, or that knock on the door, or unknown number call. It’s all a nightmare. I’m surprised that we as parents don’t keel over and die of heart attacks during the teenage years.

My mother always used to say to me “why be a lemming? Stop following the crowd. If all your friends jumped over a cliff, would you do the same?” and to be honest, I always struggled with the answer, because, yes, I probably would have jumped off the cliff if all my friends thought it was a good idea. Because that is how teenage brains work!

There is now scientific evidence to prove it. An analysis of young adults’ attitudes to risk has found that they are prepared to take more chances if their mates are doing the same. But we already knew that right? Something about their brain lobes, or frontal cortex something isn’t formed enough for them to make sensible decisions despite the risk taking element being part of their normal developmental behaviour. Luckily for most of us – they nearly all get through it in one piece, which is no thanks to us because I’m quite sure that part of that brain process involves blocking out nearly all their parents white noise.

The survey did conclude that the safe choices of others had an even bigger effect on influencing choices, which is good – it means that sensible role models will always be welcome (at my house) even if they are few and far between.


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