Teens and Risky Behavior

Studies have linked risky behavior in teens to a variety of factors, including chemical imbalances, peer pressure, trauma, exposure to lead, too much protein and not enough carbohydrates, rejection by peers and television. Risky behavior has also long been identified with race and ethnicity and family income and structure. But in the fall 1998 issue of the Journal of American Psychology, neuropsychologist Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, Director of Neuropsychology and Cognitive Neuroimaging at McLean Hospital Brain Imaging Center, the psychiatric teaching hospital at Harvard University, linked risky behavior in teens to their underdeveloped prefrontal cortexes.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to compare the emotional processing of healthy 10- to 18-year-olds with that of normal adults, researchers focused on the level of brain activity in the amygdala, a region that guides instinctual or "gut" reactions, and the frontal lobe, the seat of rationalization and reasoning. They found that "when young adolescents process emotion, the level of brain activity in the amygdala is higher than the activity in the frontal lobe. However, as adolescents progress into adulthood, there is an age-related shift: activation in the amygdala decreases while activity in the frontal lobe increases," according to the study's published results.

"These results suggest that adolescents are more prone to react with 'gut instinct' when they process emotions, but as they mature into early adulthood, they are able to temper their instinctive 'gut reaction' response with rational, reasoned responses," says Yurgelun-Todd.

This gut instinct, combined with raging hormones, peer pressure and the stresses of life--especially in these times of terrorism and war--can equal some otherwise intelligent teens doing some stupid stuff, including experimentation with drugs and alcohol, self-injuring such as cutting, racing cars, playing chicken with traffic, unsafe sexual practices, acts of aggression or violence, petty crimes such as theft, etc.

And though in many ways, risk taking for teens is the norm--it is how they grow and develop and try new things--risk taking becomes a problem when it becomes a way of life. Robert W. Blum, MD, PhD, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota found in the study, "Protecting teens: Beyond Race, Income and Family Structure," part of the congressionally mandated Nationally Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, known as Add Health, that unhealthy behavior in teens was linked to "having close friends who drink or smoke or who are involved in weapon-related violence, having a friend who has attempted suicide and having problems with school work were linked to" substance abuse, weapon-related violence and suicidal thoughts and attempts (for white and Hispanic students, in particular).

Blum says, "Too many kids--rich and poor--are left to their own devices. Kids need structure to grow and to be healthy." It is up to parents and educators and caring adults to provide that structure for teens and to help them make safe decisions.

Most teens' risky behavior peaks between the hours of three and eight p.m., what some child psychologists have termed the "witching hour". A report from the U.S. Attorney's General's Office states, "When we send millions of young people out on the streets after school with no responsible supervision or constructive activities, we reap a massive dose of juvenile crime."

Other risky behaviors for teens, besides crime, that increase during the after school hours include tobacco usage, illegal drug usage, firearm "play", drinking and drunk driving and sexual activity, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Some parents and health care professionals may think that religion keeps kids from risky behaviors, but researchers at Pennsylvania State University found that "adolescents who were more religious were healthier...Yet, in some cases, oddly, being religious actually increased a teen's risky behavior...Adolescents with religious parents were more likely to report driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol." These teens were also less like to wear seatbelts. Researcher Grace O'Neill says, "Logic would say this is backward--but religious people tend to believe, 'If I'm going to die, I'm going to die."

So what can parents do to help their risk-taking teens, especially during this time of high stress from terrorism, war, crime increases, etc.? University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers suggest parents start by working with issues that are less controversial and threatening, to provide teens with relatively safe opportunities to practice their decision-making skills. For example, let your teen determine which after-school activities to participate in. This way your teen gets to make a decision for himself and also finds something positive to occupy his time during some of the "witching hours". Other "safe" decisions you may permit your child to make include hair color, number of earrings, etc.--things that aren't life-threatening and can be easily changed. By starting with smaller decisions that allow your teen to develop his sense of self as well as his decision-making skills, you are helping him build positive lifelong learning patterns.

Like in some many other areas of your teen's life, open and nonjudgmental communication can be the key to limiting risky behavior, both in the frequency of occurrence and in the scope (amount of danger) of the behavior. Most of life is about taking risks; it is how we grow, develop, explore and learn. By maintaining a positive family environment and by modeling positive risk-taking, we can help our teens through this risk-taking, prefrontal cortex developmental time.

Jill L. Ferguson is a writer, editor, public speaker and professor of Creative Writing, Literature and Communication at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She writes often about parenting and teen topics. In the 1990s, she worked as a substance abuse and violence prevention consultanat. Her novel about teenage angst, Sometimes Art Can't Save You, was published in October 2005 by In Your Face Ink LLC (http://www.inyourfaceink.com).

Adolescent Stress And Depression

Although the adolescence period is characterized as the happiest phase of life, stress and depression are common problems marked at this stage of life. Several scientific studies focus on determining the prevalence of adolescent stress and depression in cross-cultural backgrounds. These studies confirm that the risky behaviors of adolescents are universal and crucially governed by their experience to stress, depression and other societal factors. However, depression has a genetic root as well. The disease may run through generations.

The Experience Of Stress And Depression Are Real

Many teenagers are seriously affected with the experience of stress and depression. They may rely on their negative or positive behaviors while dealing with their problems. Stress features feeling of anxiety, frustration, worry and withdrawal and a typical session of stress may last for few hours to few days. On the other hand, depression is much more complex and elaborative process that features intense feeling of sadness, hopelessness, isolation, feeling of unworthiness and a complete withdrawal that may last for longer periods, say, for few days to an entire lifetime, for example.

Common Causes Of Stress And Depression During Adolescence

The most common cause is of course breakup with partners. Apart from that, continuous arguments with parents or parental figures may play a significant leading role in the development of stress, anxiety and depression. Sibling jealousy, conflicts between parents, change in financial status of parents, sudden death or serious or terminal illness of either or both parents are the other important causes that can be considered as important factors.

Although it seems that the adolescents who show anti-social behavior are a problem for society, the fact is that they are also in trouble with their own lives. There are several factors that can make an adolescent vulnerable to self-destructive behavior. These factors may include family history of depression, alcoholism or drug use by family members, sexual or physical abuse, prolonged history of illness in family, sudden death of parents, family conflict, feeling of rejection, criticizing parents, educational pressure and many others.

Depressed Adolescents React Differently

A huge number of adolescents find ways to cope with their depression and stress, others don't. For the later group, the stressful events keep piling up, so do their problems in life. The higher the degree of depression and stress, the higher the rate of suicide or suicidal attempts among adolescents, as research confirms.

Kenneth Kender writes about health, about positive thinking and about healthy foods without hype and in plain everday English. His work is published both offline and online. His latest online project is a website called http://www.SignsOfDepression.info where he helps you to learn what depression is all about and what you can do to avoid or cure it.

Adolescent Acne

Producers of acne medications oftentimes focus on teen acne more closely than any other acne; other types of acne, such as adult acne and baby acne, tend to get less attention than acne pertaining to teens. Contrary to popular knowledge, there is another type of acne as well- adolescent acne. Although most would consider this to be the same as teenagers, the adolescent group includes preteens and those slightly younger as well.

The adolescent years are a time when appearance is everything. Youngsters who suffer from adolescent acne tend to be picked on by their peers and, as a result, may suffer from low self esteem and/or depression.
During these pivotal years, most will experience at least a mild form of adolescent acne- whether it is an occasional pimple or an ever-present gang of whiteheads, acne has affected almost everyone during their adolescent years. Young people often wonder, "Why am I having breakouts?" The answer is oftentimes a simple one. Constantly changing hormones is usually the culprit. Once an adolescent reaches a certain age, the hormones become balanced and the skin condition usually subsides.

There are several easy ways to control, or even get rid of, annoying adolescent acne. One simple way is to keep the skin as clean as possible. This minimizes the amount of oil, which causes acne to form, that collects in the pores.

Next, another way to combat adolescent acne is for the youngsters to adopt a healthy eating pattern. Fruits, vegetables, and a lot of water keep the skin hydrated and also allow the body to rid itself of harmful toxins which could cause breakouts.

Lastly, in conjunction with healthy eating habits, young people can use over the counter products to help minimize adolescent acne. Products with a gentle exfoliants help to unclog pores as well as remove any dead skin still left on the face and other acne prone parts of the body. Adolescents must be careful not to overuse these products though; doing so can aggravate the skin and cause more breakouts.

Current Health Articles on Second Hand Smoking

Getting rid of habits like smoking is not easy. However, people are becoming aware of the dangers of second hand smoke and are trying to keep their families away from these dangers by smoking near a window of the house or by opening all the doors and windows for better ventilation. Current health articles have mentioned very specific that this does not really function as even the slightest residual of smell in the air can affect other people and specially children.

Many people are aware of the dangers of second hand smoke, however, they are not aware of the deep effects; even the smallest of residual of that smoke that sticks to your clothes and furniture is also very harmful.

Current health articles also have mentioned that since this is such a great problem, it will be a very good idea to create a better awareness among smokers to find better ways to protect those around them to avoid the problems that they are already having. Another important fact that current health articles have mentioned also is that the children of parents that smoke are most likely to smoke themselves in their adolescent years only.

Current health articles have reported that there is no risk free level of tobacco exposure and that the smoke of tobacco contains chemicals that can create all kinds of cancers. And the worse news is that the chemicals get more concentrated in second hand smoke.

Current health articles advice for people to be extremely cautious about second hand smoke. It is very important for parents to think about quitting smoking, however, it is also understood that this is not possible so easily. Therefore there are certain measures that you can take to avoid second hand smoking especially for your children.

If you are a smoker and you have children at home, smoke outside of your house. That is the only way to avoid them from coming in contact with the deadly chemicals which will affect their health in the long run. Current health articles also advice to avoid smoking where there are pregnant women, since this is also a dangerous way of getting your future children at risk of contaminates.

Don't smoke on your car. Even if you are alone, the smoke will stick to the materials in the car and even though you may not think, the chemicals will still be there when others come and sit in the same car. This is the extent to which the chemicals are able to linger in the atmosphere and that is why it is very important to take proper precautions.