Skip to Content

How To Prevent Reckless Behavior In Teenagers

  • Teenagers tend to be reckless more than young kids but less than adults.
  • Close family relationships are a protective factor against such behavior.
  • Authoritative parents who use inductive discipline and allow autonomy can prevent reckless behavior in teens.

What Is Reckless Behavior

Reckless behavior is irresponsible action that involves taking an unjustifiable risk in a dangerous situation without regard for the consequence.

While reckless conduct is not exclusive to teenagers, they are believed to be the primary demographic who engage in such actions.

Some high-risk behavior is life-threatening or carries a substantial risk of serious bodily injury.

The negative consequences of some behavior are so severe that it can be considered a criminal offense.

teenager girl texts while driving reckless behavior psychology

Reckless Behavior Examples

Here are some examples of reckless behaviors that are considered reckless.

  • Reckless driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Texting while driving
  • Substance abuse
  • Drug dealing
  • Larceny
  • Vandalism
  • Binge drinking problem
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Delinquent behavior
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Assaultive behavior
  • Unsafe sexual behavior
  • Skipping school
  • Cheating in exams
  • Malicious behavior

Are Teenagers More Prone To Reckless Behavior

It is commonly believed that teenagers tend to have a reckless personality that leads to more reckless actions.

But is this belief backed by science or real data?

Are teenagers truly more reckless than other age groups, especially adults?

From the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), here are statistics of arrest rates by offense and age group in 2020 (rates are per 100,000 in age group)

All ages0 to 1415 to 1718 to 2021 to 2425 & older
Robbery20.64.175.983.054.615.8
Assault115.79.2108.4208.1268.4127.6
Burglary45.38.082.296.393.146.7
Larceny-theft190.920.8272.8396.3378.2205.8
Arson3.01.14.33.54.53.2
Vandalism52.715.1111.8122.4124.550.1
Drug abuse violations350.710.8285.5871.2877.5375.3
Gambling0.50.00.50.50.80.6
DUI236.40.246.1344.5623.8274.2
Disorderly conduct68.516.3119.0137.1152.069.4
All offenses2,316.5202.22,413.44,635.45,186.82,524.4

Teenagers (15 to 17) do get arrested at higher rates than the 0 to 14 and older adult groups.

However, it also experiences lower rates of offenses such as assault, drug abuse, gambling, and driving under the influence (DUI).

The behavior commonly perceived as recklessness may, in fact, be average teen behavior or human behavior mistakes.

In 2015, data from the National Vital Statistics System by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed the following causes of death.

*Rates per 100,000 population

5-9yr10-14yr15-19yr20-24yr25-29yr
Accidents (unintentional death)3.73.718.637.844.2
Self-harm (suicide)2.09.815.115.3
Assault (homicide)0.70.87.513.812
Undetermined2.53.35.310.714.6
30-34yr35-39yr40-44yr45-49yr50-54yr
Accidents (unintentional death)45.545.142.747.152.2
Self-harm (suicide)16.216.417.819.221.2
Assault (homicide)10.08.06.25.34.5
Undetermined20.326.635.252.178.4

Among the statistics for violent death rates—accidents, suicides, homicides, and those of undetermined intent—teenagers aged 15 to 19 years are at a lower rate than any adult group.

For unintentional deaths (accidents) thought to be the scourge of reckless acts, age 50 to 54 years is the worst group, followed by ages 45 to 49, 30 to 34, and 35 to 39 

Many parents have a bias about their teenage children’s risk-taking behavior.

The truth is that teenagers are not necessarily more prone to these types of reckless behaviors than adults.

Teenagers have higher rates of accidental and violent death than younger children.

But the rate increases do not stop at the adolescent years.

It is plausible that arrest and death rates do not give us the complete picture of teenage risk-taking.

But parents can take comfort in knowing that increases in reckless behavior in teens, if they exist, do not seem to cause a higher death rate among teenagers than adults.

The following reasons contribute to the impression that teenagers behave more recklessly.

  • Teenagers may give parents the impression that they are more prone to engaging in at-risk behaviors than younger children because that is their experience watching their young children grow into adolescents.
  • Most studies and reports on reckless behavior focus only on teenagers or compare it with younger children. In such reports, the data are rarely compared with the population of adults.
  • In politics and the news, “reckless teenagers” rhetoric gets more attention. Conversely, positive news about teenagers committing fewer crimes over the years or that socioeconomic status affects teenage outcomes more than age is ignored.​1​

What Causes Reckless Behavior

Regardless of whether teens are more likely to engage in risky behavior, as parents, we want to do whatever we can to protect our children.

To that end, let’s explore what causes reckless behavior.

Adolescence is believed to be when a teen’s brain transforms, resulting in reckless behavior.

The parts of the brain responsible for judgment and decision-making are not fully developed until a person’s mid-20s.

These are some hypothesized causes of adolescence, according to this theory.

  • A less mature adolescent brain and deficit in executive brain functions can lead to risky behavior​2​
  • Sensation-seeking instinct drives behaviors that seek brain stimulation​3​
  • Optimistic bias in judgment (believing negative results are unlikely to happen) results in a behavioral choice that has harmful consequences​4​
  • An increase in testosterone leads to an increase in aggression​5​

However, these are only hypotheses. Scientists have not agreed on whether a teenager’s immature impulse control is the result of human brain changes or how it occurs.

Also See: Emotional Maturity

Protective Factors

Although we do not know precisely what causes reckless behavior, certain risk factors are associated with it, and protective factors with less of it.

Here are five known protective factors associated with less reckless behavior in teens.​6​

Family Cohesion

Family cohesion, or “family connectedness,” refers to a sense of belonging and attachment. 

Research has shown that higher levels of family cohesion can protect against various harmful behaviors in young people.

Close family relationships are linked to increased family satisfaction and reduced reckless behaviors.

On the other hand, family dysfunction can have the opposite effect and increase the risk of dangerous behavior. This can happen when conflicts or tensions within the family lead to a lack of trust and communication.​7​

When dysfunctional families cannot provide a supportive environment, adolescents are more likely to engage in risky situations.

They could be searching for validation or a sense of belonging elsewhere. 

Family dysfunction is linked to more mental health disorders.

Some mental health issues can induce impulsive behavior traits.​8​

Mentorship

Adolescents benefit from adult support, advice, and friendship through mentor relationships.

Generally, mentors provide emotional support, teach teenagers different skills, and encourage healthy behaviors.

The mentoring relationship contributes to youth resilience.

Mentorship can be natural or formed as part of a prevention program to enhance the social environment of youths.

Additionally, mentorship reduces the chances of hanging out with peers with delinquent or antisocial behavior.

The Big Brothers and Big Sisters (BBBS) program participants were 46% less likely to initiate drug use and 27% less likely to initiate alcohol use, providing strong evidence that mentoring could protect teens from engaging in bad behavior.​9​

School Connection

Having a sense of belonging and feeling respected and cared for makes one feel connected to the school.

Youth develop social bonding and competence when they feel treated fairly, close to others, and part of the school.

Connectedness to a school can be attributed to small school size, a safe classroom management policy, and a sufficient number of friends.

This characteristic reduces the frequency, prevalence, and intensity of high-risk behavior such as marijuana, alcohol, cigarette use, and delinquent and violent behavior.​10​

Motivation to Achieve

Some individuals have unique internal drives that spur them to action and success.

Adolescents with this type of internal motivation are less likely to abuse substances and are more likely to excel academically and be resilient.​11​

Extra-curricular activities

Giving youths opportunities to participate, contribute, and experience positive social exchanges encourages their prosocial involvement.

It helps teenagers develop social skills, emotional intelligence, ethical standards, and critical thinking. Active involvement also promotes independence and a strong sense of self.

A wide range of school and community-based activities, including sports groups and volunteer service, are protective of teenage reckless behavior.​12​

Coping Skills

Having healthy coping skills is associated with less reckless behavior in teenagers.

Deficits in emotional regulation result in more emotionally driven behaviors, which are hallmarks of reckless activities.

As teenagers gain better ways to handle stress, they are less likely to act impulsively, a common trait of recklessness.​13​

Mental Health

Mental health conditions like depression or borderline personality disorder can lead to suicide attempts.​14​

Strictly speaking, suicide is not reckless behavior, but if a teen experiences severe mood swings or suicidal thoughts, seek help from a healthcare provider immediately.

How To Stop Teenage Reckless Behavior

Here are what parents can do to equip their teenagers with more protective factors.

  • Practice authoritative parenting
  • Strengthen critical thinking skills by using inductive discipline
  • Clear boundaries and reasons
  • Build decision-making skills with guidance while allowing autonomy
  • Show love and respect
  • Encourage extracurricular activities like sports or community service
  • Watch out for deviant peers and their influence without being intrusive
  • Discuss reckless behavior and the potential consequences
  • Seek professional help for past traumatic experiences or childhood trauma

References

  1. 1.
    Males M. Does the Adolescent Brain Make Risk Taking Inevitable? Journal of Adolescent Research. Published online January 2009:3-20. doi:10.1177/0743558408326913
  2. 2.
    Pharo H, Sim C, Graham M, Gross J, Hayne H. Risky business: Executive function, personality, and reckless behavior during adolescence and emerging adulthood. Behavioral Neuroscience. Published online December 2011:970-978. doi:10.1037/a0025768
  3. 3.
    Bradley G, Wildman K. Psychosocial Predictors of Emerging Adults’ Risk and Reckless Behaviors. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. Published online August 2002:253-265. doi:10.1023/a:1015441300026
  4. 4.
    ARNETT J. Reckless behavior in adolescence: A developmental perspective. Developmental Review. Published online December 1992:339-373. doi:10.1016/0273-2297(92)90013-r
  5. 5.
    Arnett J. The Young and the Reckless: Adolescent Reckless Behavior. Curr Dir Psychol Sci. Published online June 1995:67-70. doi:10.1111/1467-8721.ep10772304
  6. 6.
    DICKSON L, DEREVENSKY JL, GUPTA R. Youth Gambling Problems: Examining Risk and Protective Factors. International Gambling Studies. Published online April 2008:25-47. doi:10.1080/14459790701870118
  7. 7.
    RODRIGUEZ N, SMITH H, ZATZ MS. “YOUTH IS ENMESHED IN A HIGHLY DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY SYSTEM”: EXPLORING THE RELATIONSHIP AMONG DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILIES, PARENTAL INCARCERATION, AND JUVENILE COURT DECISION MAKING. Criminology. Published online February 2009:177-208. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9125.2009.00142.x
  8. 8.
    Paris J. Antisocial and borderline personality disorders: Two separate diagnoses or two aspects of the same psychopathology? Comprehensive Psychiatry. Published online July 1997:237-242. doi:10.1016/s0010-440x(97)90032-8
  9. 9.
    Tierney JP. Making a Difference. An Impact Study of Big Brothers/Big Sisters. ; 1995.
  10. 10.
    Dornbusch SM, Erickson KG, Laird J, Wong CA. The Relation of Family and School Attachment to Adolescent Deviance in Diverse Groups and Communities. Journal of Adolescent Research. Published online July 2001:396-422. doi:10.1177/0743558401164006
  11. 11.
    Waxman HC, Huang S yong L, Padron YN. Motivation and Learning Environment Differences between Resilient and Nonresilient Latino Middle School Students. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences. Published online May 1997:137-155. doi:10.1177/07399863970192003
  12. 12.
    Catalano RF, Berglund ML, Ryan JAM, Lonczak HS, Hawkins JD. Positive youth development in the United States: Research findings on evaluations of positive youth development programs. Prevention & Treatment. Published online June 2002. doi:10.1037/1522-3736.5.1.515a
  13. 13.
    Cooper ML, Wood PK, Orcutt HK, Albino A. Personality and the predisposition to engage in risky or problem behaviors during adolescence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Published online 2003:390-410. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.84.2.390
  14. 14.
    Soloff PH. Characteristics of Suicide Attempts of Patients With Major Depressive Episode and Borderline Personality Disorder: A Comparative Study. American Journal of Psychiatry. Published online April 1, 2000:601-608. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.157.4.601

    Disclaimer

    * All information on parentingforbrain.com is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *