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What parental behavior can reduce risky life choices in their adolescent children?


Parents and other caring adults hold important influence in the behavior of their children as they grow into teens. These activities that parents can regulate and guide include nutritional intake, physical activities, sleep, the amount of screen time, substance abuse and sexual activity. 

However, many parents find it hard to communicate with their children and teens, especially in developing a way to talk to them effectively and in engaging ways on the topic of risky life choices. 

Risky behaviors in adolescents

For 2 months in 2022, researchers conducted a survey among parents who had children aged 11 to 18. The survey wanted to know: 

  • how much parents know about health guidelines for teenagers,
  • how engaged parents and teens are in healthy behaviors, 
  • what parenting styles and attitudes they have,
  • what their perceived barriers to doing healthy behaviors are, 
  • what their perceived facilitators to engaging in healthy behaviors are. 
  • What their preferred delivery of information when learning interventions is. 

Researchers found that: 

  • Parents claimed to sleep about 8 hours a day, adolescents at 9 hours a day. 
  • Only 3.4% of parents reported that their child met the recommended time for physical activity. 
  • Only 5.6% of them reported that their child met the recommended daily vegetable intake. 
  • Only 5.4% of them reported that their child met the recommended screen time. 
  • Parents’ perceived knowledge about health was moderate. 
  • Parents’ actual knowledge was lowest for nutritional intake and physical activity. Only 42% of them had correct knowledge about these guidelines. 
  • Parents preferred to learn interventions via websites. 

Challenges to communicating with teens about risky behaviors: 

  • There is discomfort in initiating and conducting conversations on the part of parents. Discomfort is also cited by teens. 
  • Parents’ lack of knowledge about risky behaviors. 
  • Teens’ fear about discussing the issues with their parents.

Tips for parents in guiding their teens in lifestyle risk behaviors: 

Parents have the best intentions in raising their children. They want the best for them, and that includes protecting them from possible harm. 

There have been school-based and community-based interventions that envision teaching parents how to better teach their children about risky behaviors including  “Talking Parents, Healthy Teens” and “Keepin’ it R.E.A.L..” However, there is much to achieve so that parents can implement effective parental behaviors to reduce risk in teens. 

  • Communicate effectively.
Researchers from James Madison University wanted to know how parents having frequent conversations about risky behaviors (in this case sexual behaviors) with their teens affected the teens’ decisions about their sexual health. 

They found that teens prefer their parents to be prepared in having the conversation. They want parents to initiate the discussion and the tone of the conversation to be non judgmental. 

  • Parental monitoring decreases risky behaviors in teens.
Parental monitoring involves knowing what the teen i s doing, where they are, who they are with and equipping them with clear expectations. It also includes regular follow up while they are away to check that they are keeping the agreed boundaries. 

  • Setting rules to abstain from risky behaviors or setting up plans on what to do in case a teen is in a potentially negative situation may be effective
A study about parents who set rules around sexual activity, alcohol use, and tobacco use showed that abstinence rules and and contingency rules limit the teens’ engagement in such behaviors. 

Parents have the opportunity to make lasting and positive impact on their teen’s future life and health decisions, that is why parents must aim to increase their knowledge about these risky behaviors and develop their skills in having engaging and non judgmental conversations. 

Parents have an array of support available in the form of websites offering science-based advice and professional help from social workers, mental health professionals and family therapists too. 

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What parental behavior can reduce risky life choices in their adolescent children?
Brandon Resasco