Reckless Behavior in Adolescents

Adolescents often test the limits of parental and social rules. However, reckless behavior that endangers your child and others can be a sign of a larger problem, such as a behavioral disorder or inadequate understanding of social norms. If you believe your adolescent’s reckless behavior may be dangerous or developmentally inappropriate, consider talking to a counselor, school social worker or psychiatrist.

Normal Behavior

Some degree of risk-taking behavior is normal for teenagers. For example, although inadvisable and potentially dangerous, behaviors such as sneaking away from school and lying to parents and teachers are within the realm of typical teenage behavior 2. Although parents must address these reckless behaviors, they may not be cause for serious concern, explains psychologist Jeffrey Arnett in the journal "Developmental Review." However, risk-taking behaviors become problematic when they place your child or others in harm's way 1. For example, drinking and driving, using drugs, stealing or engaging in promiscuous sexual activity can indicate larger problems.

Common Causes

The human brain does not develop fully until an individual is in her 20s, so adolescents often lack the ability to make reasoned choices in the same manner as adults. Additionally, during the teenage years, peer influence is one of the strongest factors affecting an adolescent’s behavior, and peer pressure can exacerbate reckless behavior.

More Serious Causes

For some adolescents, more serious issues may lead to recklessness. For example, mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder can lead to reckless choices. Additionally, adolescents who have experienced abuse, neglect or other forms of trauma, including divorce or other major life changes, may display abnormally reckless behavior.

How to Help

By addressing recklessness early on, parents can help prevent their adolescent’s behavior from escalating. Start by discussing with your teen the types of behavior you expect and why you have chosen these particular rules. Since teenagers lack the same cognitive faculties as adults, explanations of rules are a particularly valuable teaching tool. By establishing clear rules and enforcing reasonable consequences for breaking those rules, you may be able to curtail some recklessness, explains the USAA Educational Foundation.

For more serious cases of recklessness where mental illness, abuse or other trauma may be a factor, behavioral therapy and other forms of counseling can help. Support groups emphasizing decision-making skills can also help teens act in more positive ways.