Why Do People Take Part In Risky Behavior?

By Sarah Fader

Updated December 14, 2018

Reviewer Dawn Brown

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The largest age group for exhibiting risky behavior is the adolescent years and has been thought to be associated with the immature mind. However, risk-taking can continue well into the twenties and thirties. For some, it can be a life-long behavior.

Which of the following is the most likely for adolescent impulsivity and risky behavior? There are very few children who sail through adolescence without at least a little bit of impulsivity or bizarre behavior. Early changes in childhood behavior are demonstrated in teenaged preferences for certain clothing, hairstyles, and music. Although the multiple piercings, tattoos and strange ideas of fashion may seem alarming, it's not a sign your child is resorting to anarchy and is ready to torch buildings.

A child's brain goes through massive growth spurts. By the time a child reaches ages seven, the brain is already 95% of its size. The jump start on brain development, though, doesn't begin until puberty. During this period, the brain begins remodeling itself, heightening some brain functions and diminishing others in accordance to which parts are used the most. This activity begins at the back of the brain, with the prefrontal cortex developed last. The prefrontal cortex is the decision-making part of the brain and is responsible for the child's ability to plan and perceive consequences for actions, solve problems and control impulses.

Since the prefrontal cortex is still developing, teenagers might rely more on the area of the brain called the amygdala to make decisions and solve problems more than adults normally do. The amygdala is associated with emotions, aggression, impulses and instinctive behaviors.

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Risky Behavior Is Built IntoThe Brain

Dr. Romer and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania disagree. Although the brain isn't fully developed during the teenage years, he states that's not the reason teenager take high risks. He said impulsivity is not the case with teenagers. In fact, he argues, they're somewhat hyper-rational. Risky behavior is the choice teenagers make for gaining experience. He points out that if the risky behavior in teens were biological, there would be far more teens who drink and drive, practice unprotected sex and abandon their homes and studies. Instead, there is just a handful.

Dr. Romer's observations would be in agreement with why teenagers dye their hair blue, develop their own "sound" and make their fashion statements. They are exploring. They are searching for personal identity. They want to know what their place is in the scheme of things and how they can fulfill it. When teenagers don't have sufficient information available to them, they are more likely to act on impulsivity and engage in risky behaviors. Which of the following is most likely for impulsivity and risky behavior seems to be a combination of two primary events; the developing brain and the desire to take actions that will give them the experiences to make future judgments.

Social Bonding

Teenaged behavior can be bizarre. Teenaged pranks run the gauntlet of spray-painting the walls of rival schools, dropping cherry bombs in toilets, stealing Halloween candy and toilet papering front yards. Years later, the pranks may still cause chuckles among cronies, even if they did cause property destruction and emotional distress. It was all in good fun.

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Those cronies might also hash over the times they skipped school, took a vehicle for a joyride or had their first drinking party without feeling the least bit of shame for those reckless days; although they may not have their children to do the same. Those cronies knew, even then, what the consequences of their actions could be, but there was no different in their perceptions. They were no longer so self-absorbed and exclusive. They were aware of the world around them and how their actions affected the emotional well-being of others. They no longer wished to destroy personal or public property because they felt a degree of responsibility toward society.

Something new happens to adolescents as they enter their twenties. Not only are their brains nearly completely developed, but they are awakening to a new awareness of the world around them. They are curious about others and become very social. Even young people who had felt unpopular and isolated during their teenaged years will suddenly have a core of friends they can visit, share experiences with and contact in emergencies. They are bonding. They are creating a safe circle of friends and co-workers for nurturing families.

Patterns Of Risk

Most youths are well socialized by the time they are in their thirties. Studies have indicated that even youth who have been home-schooled have well-socialized computer skills even if they are awkward in a physical environment. However, not all adolescents make a successful transition. Anti-social behavior can carry well into adult life, with a history of burglary, theft, and violence. High-risk behavior, such as alcoholism and drug abuse can become a lifetime habit.

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Early indicators of a troubled youth can often be found as young as age six or seven. Maladjusted children may be playground bullies, cruel to animals or steal from other children. Early indications of a self-harming child can be found in children who habitually pick away at scabs, bite their fingernails down to the cuticle, chew on their lips or bite themselves. Adolescents who self-harmed as children may carry their injuries to the next level. They may start cutting or burning themselves, drive recklessly, or engage in unprotected sex. Left unchecked, anti-social and self-harming patterns of behavior can carry through into adulthood.

Children who isolate themselves at an early age are not necessarily at high risk for anti-social or self-harming behavior. Children often have discomfort with being placed in an environment that is not their social norm. They have a difficult time understanding the responses of others who do not have the same family values or traditions. Their isolation may just be the puzzling out of their young minds that do not yet understand that each family is raised differently.

Studies have also found that some children are born naturally shy. They may cling to their mother far longer than average, learn to talk later and prefer their imaginative play to the company of others. They acquire friends slowly and often, painfully. In adulthood, they might exhibit an introvert personality, although once the ice breaks, they can often be quite friendly.

Risk Taking Genes

Some people just seem to be risk-takers. As children, they were the ones who took the double-dare to sled down the tallest, steepest hill. They were the ones who pushed the limits on where they could go and what they could do. They were thrill lovers, adrenaline junkies. There haven't been any conclusive studies that explain why some people begin exhibiting risky behavior earlier than others and continue longer but thrill seekers will say it's in the genes.

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There is a lot of debate as to just how many of our behaviors are shaped by nature and how many by nurture. Four children may be born in the same household and treated equally, yet only one exhibit early high-risk behavior. On the other hand, people who grew up with risk-taking parents will have a broader view of what society considers risks and engage in high-risk behaviors simply because it feels normal. For example, people who volunteer for the military or police force, heavy equipment operators, firefighters and divers do not perceive their occupations as high risk, simply traditional family employment, even if the risk had taken a family member.

For them, there is a calculated risk with an end goal- the common good of society. Their early childhood may have been spent exploring caves, rummaging around in abandoned buildings, picking their way through construction sites and their parents saw it as normal behavior. As adolescents, they may have been the leaders of some pretty bold groups who explored what they could do with the skills they learned in childhood. They may attract other risk takers who loved the adrenaline rush for no apparent reason other than it was an addiction to them. Although they may exhibit high-risk activity, the boldness is a necessary part of society's function.

Within adolescent risk-taking groups, however, there are always a few whose motives are derived from more than exposure to more than family traditions, exposure to high-risk jobs or an apparent genetic disposition for taking risks. As adults, they may exhibit rash behavior, such as neglecting to use proper safety equipment or testing the limits of the machinery they are using, disguising their impulse to self-harm with carelessness in a high-risk environment.

Impulsivity may also be demonstrated in reckless behavior toward others, causing near-accidents and costly damage to the workplace. Repeatedly endangering others and the workplace in a high-risk job can be a sign of anti-social behavior.

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The Social Effect of Risky Behaviors

People take part in risky behaviors for many reasons. Often, they can be traced back to early childhood, with its own set of heroes, dare-devils, and rebels. Children tend to idolize the risk-takers among their group. As they grow older and the need for self-identity grows stronger, they become easily persuaded by the strongest and boldest among them.

Risk taking can have a positive effect. Young risk-takers often have a family history of risk-taking individuals. They may have been sea-farers, pioneers, soldiers or adventurers. What others within a group see as a risk, they may consider normal. Their leadership may encourage others to perform daring acts for the safety and well-being of the community.

Harmful risk-taking behaviors include risks that endanger others, such as drinking and driving or unprotected sex and behaviors that cause self-harm, such as failure to abide by safety regulations.

There isn't a clear-cut answer as to which of the following is most likely for adolescent impulsivity and risky behavior; the effects of the developing brain, the drive to identify self and create an individual information bank, environment or genetics. Risk taking can begin in early childhood as one of the symptoms of a self-harming personality disorder or early anti-social activity. It can also be a part of what the child sees as a normal environment.

It's not uncommon for risk-taking behaviors and impulsivity to continue well into the twenties and even into the thirties. Risk-taking behaviors that were firmly established in childhood are the most likely to follow through into adulthood. Youthful risk takers can influence others within their group either negatively, such as for crime or positively, as in doing brave deeds for the common good.

Some adolescent risk-taking behaviors, such as alcoholism and drug experimentation, can turn into a life-long addiction. These behaviors may also often be detected early among children who show a tendency for self-harm and among those who show hostilities and aggression to others.

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It's easy to see your teenagers as an alien invasion because it's very difficult to accept that your mind was once so young and foolish, but risk-taking behaviors and impulsivity is normal adolescent behavior. A stable home and open communications usually help to ride out the storm, but if you feel your teenager needs an intervention, consult a counselor.

If you or someone you know takes part in risky behavior, and there is a definite pattern, then it's time to get help. You don't have to go to a doctor's office when you can reach out and talk to someone online. Counselors and doctors at http://www.BetterHelp.com/start/ are licensed and experienced and ready to help you. You can get affordable online therapy at any time or choose a doctor you like to schedule an appointment around his/her schedule. Behavior cognitive therapy, such as offered by Better Help, is the lasting solution to these addictive behaviors.


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