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Understanding risky behavior in adolescence: There is no adolescence without taking risks


Understanding risky behavior in adolescence

Understanding risky behavior in adolescence.

“There is no adolescence without taking risks” D. Le Breton & D. Marcelli

Risk-taking in adolescence: what about the reality? What do the surveys tell us?

  • 15% of adolescents surveyed (Youth Health Barometer) say they have done something risky in the month preceding the survey
  • One in 5 adolescents has an "accident" requiring medical intervention in the 12 months preceding the survey
  • Traumatology: first cause of passage (2/3) to emergency for the 12-18 age group… 1/3 of these teenagers will present a new accident during the year
  • Nearly 50,000 accidents per year recorded in the context of sports practice ...
  • Accidents are the main cause of mortality & morbidity at this age of life

what is risk behavior?

By definition, “risky driving involves deliberate exposure to the risk of injuring yourself, dying, altering your future, putting your health at risk” (Dr. Le Breton).

Must be distinguished :

  • Dangerous driving with immediate versus delayed effect
  • Noisy and detectable risky driving versus hidden, concealed
  • Risk driving by excess, repetition, refusal, flight ...
  • Socially unacceptable deliberate behavior versus   socially valued risky practices (extreme sport)
The conduct that defies death (ordalic) results in a major risk-taking (the adolescent plays everything for everything ), he puts his life at stake, thus questions his fate to validate / win the right to continue his existence , for example, he may allow himself to live if he comes out unscathed after having driven against the direction on the ring road ...

The expressions differ according to gender: schematically boys more often resort to violent and transgressive acts while girls (equally concerned by this question), more introverted, attack their bodies more directly ...

Thus, risky behavior manifests itself in a wide range and differs according to gender.

Diversity of modes of expression:

Repeated accidents, excessive speed, refusal of limits and precautionary measures ...

But also :

  • Heavy drinking (binge-drinking) and repeated consumption of psychoactive products (tobacco, alcohol, cannabis, etc.)
  • Self-injuring gestures: scarifications, burns,
  • Risky sexual behavior: unprotected intercourse (pregnancy, STIs, etc.)
  • Eating Disorders (TCA)
  • Suicide attempt

The keys to understanding

1. Understand the data from neuroscience research (functional MRI imaging techniques) which show (diagrams below) an asynchrony in brain maturation between:
on the one hand, the limbic zones where emotional regulations are played out, reward circuits ...

On the other hand, the prefrontal cortex which controls the organization of cognition, judgment, planning,  inhibition ...
These data are an element of explanation of the impulsiveness of behavior in adolescence, which one could summarize by the aphorism "emotion takes precedence over reason".

This discrepancy accounts for, in adolescents, this discrepancy between the understanding of risk (comparable to that of adults) and the reduced capacity to consider its   negative repercussions.

2. Understand that discovering the world for oneself is an imperative for the adolescent in this movement of self-affirmation and differentiation from others ( process of separation / individuation ) , the exploration of the world is  urgent, to a thousand. places a copy and paste of what the parents would like to "print"; It is inescapable necessity to experience for himself the life which opens up to him without taking into account the precautionary advice of parents ...

So the world belongs to him and he explores it by trial and error  including possible risks: it is as much inhabited by a search for sensations and immediate rewards as by the need to break with a previous position of submission to the recommendations of adults.

The challenge is to prove their desire and ability to live up to new aspirations, to assert themselves under the gaze of peers, by demonstrating their daring, recklessness, and even their exploits via social networks. : he exposes himself in front of his group of belonging to a risk of outbidding, reinforced by the feeling of omnipotence to assert his difference, while checking that one cares for him ...

3. Understand that the group of peers , by its power of attraction,  can encourage the adolescent to engage in an escalation of challenges and risky behaviors in order to be recognized and accepted… Risk behaviors can thus appear as DIY rites of passage ...

"There is no adolescence without taking risks" (D Le Breton & D Marcelli)

It is first of all a matter of understanding the risk-taking behavior in adolescence in terms of pleasure, adventure, the need to confront limits, to test, to explore the potential of the surrounding world…

Limit oneself safety measures and precautions, all the more so because of the stigmatization does not help the adolescent to see clearly what he brings into play in an extreme way: a painful desire to upset family routines, an attempt to escape impotence to mobilize otherwise   its capacities to assert itself in its new identity, an attempt to cobble together a rite of passage to adulthood ...

However, it is important to clearly differentiate between trial or exploration behavior which is common in adolescence, from self-sabotaging behavior which reveals depressive suffering or a more severe psychopathological disorder.


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