Teens and risky behaviour

7min read

Teen girl with friends drinking and smoking

Having a teen in the family can be tough, they're not a child anymore and they're also not quite an adult. They may go through lots of different experiences and helping them make positive and informed choices is important. 

Key Points:

  • Listen and talk openly to your teen about the risks and challenges they will come up against, this can help reduce the risks that they face in their day-to-day life
  • Give them practical ways to help them stay safe so they don’t have to learn through their mistakes
  • Let them know that you understand that the pressures teens face can be difficult

Helping them make informed choices

They may kick up a fuss about being old enough to look after themselves, but the truth is that teens don’t always make the right choices and they know this as well as you do. Setting some ground rules makes it clear that they’re being looked after and makes them feel safe and secure. Don’t just make it a one-off conversation, keep communication open with your teen and talk to them about the risks they may face in certain scenarios.

Relationships and intimacy

Talking to your teen about dating and intimacy can help them make positive choices. First love can be very intense so ask them how they feel and if they're being treated right. If they are in a relationship and things are concerning you, help them to see the bigger picture so they can see things more clearly.  If they are being intimate, this may be difficult for you. Ensure they understand about consent, making their own decisions and staying safe.

Talking about alcohol or drugs

It's worth talking to your teen about alcohol to prevent them from binge drinking or curb the amount they drink, especially if they're underage. Listen to your teen’s thoughts on drinking and don't be judgmental. You may want to mention the long-term health risks or effects drinking can have. If your teen goes out and you think there will be drinking, remind them no one should be drinking and driving. If you suspect or find out that your child has been taking drugs, don't panic, find out if they're just experimenting or have an addiction. If they do, let them know you will support them to seek help.

Smoking or vaping

Your teen may try their first cigarette or vape but let them know once they start it's hard to stop. If your teen smokes or vapes, there is a lot of support available such as teen support groups if they are willing to quit. If they refuse, set some boundaries, and remind them of the risks. Quitting will be hard but tell your teen not to give up and that you will help them through this. 

Driving

Your teen or their friends may have passed their driving test recently and got a car. Make sure they don't take risks when it comes to driving. Remind them to drive safely, wear their seatbelt, not to use a phone while driving and not to speed or show off for the thrill of it. If you think they're going to go out drinking, ensure they get a taxi home rather than drive home. Make sure they are aware of the laws of using a mobile phone and driving.

Tips to keep your teen safe

Help them say ‘no’ to pressure - Point out that their friends might just be showing off. Help them see that they can have a mind of their own. If you are worried about the friends they are keeping or that they may be involved in a gang, try to spot the signs.  

Make sure they are aware of the risks - Teens need to understand risks. Lots of young people get in trouble if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  

Positive messages help - Your behaviour will influence them most. Try to set a positive environment so it helps them to flourish and feel more secure. 

Don’t expect instant solutions - If they are displaying risky behaviour, it might be they are possibly struggling with other issues such as bullying, self-esteem, mental health, or relationships. Let them know you are there to listen and help. Avoid trying to solve everything with one conversation. Seek support from others such as your GP, the school, family and friends. 

Be clear about the boundaries – Talk to them about what is and what isn’t allowed in your house and help them understand what your worries are too.  

Not going out late alone – Have a conversation about how they will get home. Encourage them to keep in touch by phone and letting you or a friend know where they are going. Go through safety tips with them so they understand what to do if they face an uncomfortable or worrying situation. 

Keep the conversation flowing – Keep talking about anything and everything! Having open chats with your teen is important as it lets them know that they can come to you if they are struggling. Think about how you talk to your teen too, keep your tone calm and avoid shouting. 

Further resources

If you would like further support and advice, call our helpline on 0808 800 2222 or email us at askus@familylives.org.uk. You can talk to us online via our live chat service, which is open, Monday to Friday between 1.30pm and 9pm. You may also find it helps to find out how other parents have coped with this on our online forums.

Other organisations that can help

Our video on helping your teens into adulthood has lots of helpful advice.

Drinkaware has lots of helpful information about alcohol.

If drugs are a concern, you can talk to FRANK for advice.

If your teen is a new driver, read some advice from the AA.

Puberty

Sex education and development

Relationships and sex