Understanding why teenagers take risks

Adolescence can be a challenging developmental period, often characterised by experimentation, impulsivity, curiosity and uncertainty. Young people take risks. They take chances with their health, well-being and even their lives.  

In a poster at the Division of Clinical Psychology Annual Conference in Birmingham today, Dr Nicola Cogan from the University of Edinburgh and her colleagues set out to discover how the ways that young people cope with the stresses of life may make them more or less likely to take risks.

The researchers surveyed 407 young people aged between 14 and 17 years, with a variety of questionnaires to see how much risky behaviour (such as binge drinking, drug taking and unsafe sex) they engaged in and how they coped with stress.

They found a high level or risk-taking behaviour among the young people and that young people who were better able to cope with stress were less likely to take risks.

Dr Cogan says: “One of the most fascinating aspects of adolescent behaviour is the paradox between the actions young people choose and the actions that would appear to be in their own best interests. Not only does it prevent young people from acting in ways that may be deemed socially acceptable: it can actually encourage behaviour that could lead to dangerous or even fatal outcomes.”

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