Do Teenagers Love Risk? Maybe They Just Fail To Understand It
We adults think of teenagers as lovers of risk and danger, but that may not be the case, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
“While many teens engage in reckless behaviors such as driving fast or experimenting with alcohol, a new study suggests that adolescents aren’t actually drawn to danger—it’s just that they have a high level of tolerance for situations in which the degree of risk is uncertain.
‘Adolescents are ambiguity tolerant rather than risk seeking,’ said Agnieszka Tymula, a co-author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Neural Science at New York University. ‘We found that teenagers get involved in unsafe situations not because they are innately drawn to dangerous situations, but because they don’t know enough about the odds,’ Tymula explained. Far from being thrill seeking, when the risks are clearly spelled out, teens are turned off, she added.
The researchers suggest that efforts at improving adolescent decision-making should focus on creating learning environments in which teens can learn about risk through systems like drink-and-drive simulators that allow kids to experience what it would feel like to drive inebriated. They say such programs may be more effective than efforts that rely on prohibition. ‘They’ll learn how likely the consequences are, by feeling the risks firsthand,’ said Tymula.” Read more here.
I wonder if we adults assume that teenagers know what we know about the risk level of activities like speeding. Since teens understand the risks as well as we do and then do them anyway, our thinking goes, they must be actively embracing and enjoying the risk. But maybe that’s wrong—maybe teenagers are lacking a true understanding of how dangerous these activities are.
True, teens may be told about risk by the adults in their lives, but I like how this study suggests that a more effective way to help them gain this missing understanding is to allow them to get a first-hand sense of risk within a safe setting. Not everyone has access to a drink-and-drive simulator, of course, so I’m wondering about more practical and accessible ways in which we could create “learning environments in which teens can learn about risk.” Any ideas?