University of Illinois Extension

Why Teens Take Risks

Jodi Dworkin, U of I Graduate Student

It's hard being a teenager today. Teens have a lot of fears and face social challenges on a daily basis. To try and understand what it's like being a teenager today, think about these things:

  • Kids are discovering alcohol a lot earlier. Studies show that 80 percent of high school students have tried alcohol, and more than 30 percent of these students are binge-drinkers.
  • Second to alcohol, marijuana is the most commonly used drug. Research shows that 50 percent of teens have tried pot, and 71 percent have friends who use pot. And, 82 percent of teens don't think that pot is harmful.
  • Even though drugs are illegal, 80 percent of teens report that drugs are easily available in their school.
  • Studies show that 50 percent of high school students have had sex, and 8.3 percent report having sex before age 13.
  • Only 43 percent of teens believe that binge-drinking is harmful.

So, why do teens do these things? Teenagers use alcohol and pot for the same reasons that adults do - to relieve stress, relax, have fun, and because everyone else is doing it.

Teens are most likely to use substances on the weekends, with friends, and at parties. We also know that substances lead to sex. In fact, 25 percent of teens report having used drugs or alcohol before sex.

Teens make decisions about alcohol, pot and sex based on two important questions:

  • What do my friends think?
  • Will it be fun?

Your grandchild probably knows that getting drunk carries risks, but having fun and being with friends at a party are more important. There is a trade-off between doing what is right and being accepted by peers. What can you do to help your grandchild steer clear of these risky behaviors?

First, recognize that your grandchild is being exposed to drugs. About 90 percent of high school students say that alcohol, pot, and cigarettes are easy to get.

Also, monitor your grandchild's behavior and activities. Let your grandchild know how much you care, and work on developing a good relationship.

Fortunately, the number one risk kids associate with drug use is having you find out they are using drugs.

Research has found that when adults have a good relationship with teens and monitor teens' behaviors, they are less likely to get involved in problem behaviors and are more likely to choose friends who participate in positive behaviors.