Teenagers are often particularly prone to taking risks with behaviours that seem exciting, ‘cool’ and dangerous. It’s part of growing up to take risks and it’s part of life that some risks need to be taken, otherwise nothing new would ever happen. Taking risks can be frightening, inappropriate, too much for us to manage. Sometimes the idea of trying something new is exciting and sometimes the danger of it adds to the excitement. To help us stay alive in dangerous situations, our brains also send us signals to be wary of going too far with something that might harm us. Risk-taking and risk-assessment is a balancing act.
Risk is not just to do with dangerous drugs, or sexual activity that you feel under pressure to take part in. It can sometimes feel risky to try our very hardest in case we fail, and then it seems ‘the only way is down’. It can feel risky to say how we feel about people, good or bad, in case we get a reaction we don’t know how to handle. Often we hide our feelings and go along with peer pressure to be cool and join in, even when somewhere inside there is a little voice saying ‘this doesn’t seem right for me’. Fear of being left out or ‘uncool’ can be very powerful. Social media has added to this pressure and cyberbullying is now common. It can seem that ‘everybody is doing it’ and you are the odd one out.
But actually it’s most cool to hold on to what is right for you, to be someone of strength and self-worth. Those are the people we all really want to be, and be like. Several religions, for example, prohibit alcohol or other drugs, so people who follow their religious rules often just don’t do it and don’t get pressured into it. So why should anybody be pressurised into behaviours that go against their own inner sense of what is right?
Some risks, as you know, affect your mind and body and are potentially dangerous, or even lethal. Every young person knows something about drugs but you might still want to try (or have tried) various drugs, including the legal ones like alcohol and cigarettes, or illegal ones such as marijuana and ecstacy.
Remember, you have the right to choose what is best for you, whether that means you decide to take a risk or not take a risk (by saying ‘no thanks’). Being responsible for our own decisions, taking note of all the information available about consequences and harm, then making our own choices are important factors in life. It can be hard not to be carried away or persuaded to do what it seems everyone else is up to, or even to be the ring-leader to show you’re not a wimp. But being truly strong is when you have the courage and self-awareness to stick by what is right for you.
If you feel that your health or wellbeing is worth risking to a potentially dangerous level, or you are worried about someone you know, click on the following links to find help.
- Drinkaware.co.uk has further information about teenage drinking here.
If you are affected by someone in your life who drinks too much, have a look at this helpful site.
- There is a wealth of information on health effects of smoking, advice and further links on sites like BBC Radio 1’s advice page here and the NHS guide to quitting smoking here.
- Kidshealth will tell you what you need to know about drugs
- FRANK gives friendly, confidential advice about drugs
- Young Addaction is a UK charity for helping those with drug addiction
- Adfam supports families dealing with drug and alcohol addiction
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Doing something illegal won’t stop drug, alcohol or health professionals or other carers from helping you. Making mistakes is human and people want to help others who ask for help.
Asking for help is the best thing you can do for yourself if you are struggling with addictions or risky behaviours (including sexual activity that does not honour you or your body). You always have the right to say ‘no’ if you are uncomfortable with any pressure to take a risk, which can amount to subtle or outright bullying. To look after yourself first and foremost is a sign of good mental health and emotional self-esteem.