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When Do Teenagers Stop Taking Risks?

 

There is a wide range of research devoted to studying risky behavior during adolescence. Much of it is focused on risky behaviors as coping methods and some of it looks at risk taking with relation to peer influence, normal developmental stages, and other influences. However, until now, few studies have looked at how risk taking declines over time. Specifically, few studies have examined when young adults’ risk-taking behavior levels off or declines. Additionally, no attention has been given to understanding the effect of gender on risk taking as adolescents enter adulthood. To this end, Jeannette Brodbeck of the Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy at the University of Berne in Switzerland recently led a study examining the risk taking trajectories of participants beginning at age 16 and ending at age 29. Brodbeck looked at alcohol and cannabis use, smoking, drinking to drunkenness, HIV risk through unprotected sex, and general deviance in a sample of 2,843 participants.

Brodbeck found that overall, drinking to drunkenness and smoking both decreased as the participants matured. Consumption of alcohol increased in the teen years and then remained stable through the rest of the study period. Cannabis use decreased for all the participants, but sexual risk taking increased through age 22. Brodbeck said, “While drinking up to the point of drunkenness, smoking, cannabis use, and deviance decline during young adulthood, HIV-related sexual risk behavior still increases.” This was not surprising, but raises significant concerns. Since people engage in more sexual relationships and become more sexually active as they enter adulthood, it is expected that they would be at increased risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. This finding suggests that efforts raising awareness about safe sex and the risks of unprotected sexual activity be increased and targeted specifically to this age group.

Another interesting finding was the trajectory of deviance. Even though the males and females all followed similar patterns of risk taking increases and decreases, the females had slower declines in deviance than the males. The reasons for this are unclear and should be explored further in future research. Until then, this study sheds light on the risk taking behaviors of adolescents as they progress from childhood to adulthood.

Reference:
Brodbeck, J., Bachmann, M. S., Croudace, T. J., and Brown, A. (2012). Comparing growth trajectories of risk behaviors from late adolescence through young adulthood: An accelerated design. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030873

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Comments
  • Zena February 4th, 2013 at 2:27 PM #1

    Look, we have prolonged adolescence until about age 30, so it is probably up until then that teens and young adults will continue to make decisions that are not necessarily the best ones!
    When I was growing up you just had a smaller window of time where stupidity and risky choices would be tolerated. We were expected to have our fun for a while but then it was time to grow up and become adults.
    It is almost as if young people today don’t have those expectations placed on them, they are allowed to do what they want for as long as they want and I don’t see this as being advantageous for anyone.

  • Richard M February 4th, 2013 at 3:41 PM #2

    Some individuals will definitely get rid of risky behavior earlier than the others.But in general the age of getting rid of such behavior changes due to various factors – factors including culture, responsibility placed on them socially and also familial conditions. Now that more and more children are living either with one parent or in a mixed family this age of continuing with risky behavior is only going to increase. Not because parents are getting complacent but because that is what normally happens to adolescent living in such families.

    We need effective protection and guidance for adolescents to cope with this difficult period in their lives.

  • emmA February 5th, 2013 at 3:48 AM #3

    It’s usually only the teenagers looking for attention any way that they can get it who are the ones who are going through the motions with all of this behavior that could hurt them.
    And this is somethng that they won’t stop doing until they find that they are getting the attention and love that they need.
    If they don’t they will continue to engage in risk taking all of their lives even if it brings negative attention- because to them some attention is better than none.

  • bernard February 5th, 2013 at 3:00 PM #4

    risky behavior is almost a given in adolescent.. everybody does it. but what should matter is educating them and making them aware. that’s the difference between someone who grew up as any adolescent would but quickly got back on track and someone who refuses to grow up!

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