5 Ways The Environment Plays Into Teen Risky Behaviors

By Kelly Fitzgerald Posted May 17, 2016 under Guest Authors

As a parent, your automatic inclination is to protect your children. It’s not unusual to worry about their behavior as they grow up. The teenage years can be difficult, especially with the push and pull of allowing teens some freedom, while also keeping a close watch to make sure they don’t end up in the wrong crowd making the wrong decisions. The reality is that parents can only do so much when it comes to shaping their child’s future. The truth is that kids will move through the world and develop their own experiences and belief systems. But what about the environment they live in as they grow into adults? Parents play a part in this. Let’s take a look at five ways environment can play into teens’ behavior.

  1. Economic circumstances: Although risky behavior can come about regardless of socioeconomic status, it’s important to reflect on the heightened risk poverty carries. According to a study by the Illinois State Board of Education, poverty is the single greatest predictor of social and academic failure in U.S. schools. A family’s income can play a huge role in the basic care that a child receives. For example, this impacts if a child has access to healthcare or early intervention programs. Children who grow up in poverty are also at a greater risk for behavioral problems and are exposed at a greater rate to community violence and illegal activities. It’s also true that punishing experiences, such as economic stress, exacerbate negative effects like depression, anger, or aggression. These experiences can put a strain on family units and push teens to engage in risky behavior.
  2. School: The type of school environment your child is in absolutely plays a role in their future behavior. School is the normally the first time kids learn how to communicate and interact with their peers. This is the time when teens begin to select peer groups of their choice and often adopt the behaviors or traits their friends have. Popularity and pleasing peers becomes an important part of adolescence. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the most dominant teenagers seem to be the most influential, especially in regard to high-risk behaviors. Different stages of life and growing up like puberty, school transitions, and changes in friendships can affect how strong peer influence is. Poor family relationships also make teens more likely to attract and affiliate with deviant peers and take on their negative behaviors.   
  3. Family and parent relationships: Family heavily influences teen behavior and often shapes the environment adolescents grow up in. NCBI research shows that kids are less likely to participate in risky behaviors if they are raised in homes where parents are warm, loving, involved and supportive of their independence and opinions, but also monitor their children’s activities. Parental involvement is particularly important when it comes to alcohol and drug abuse. This includes parental supervision or knowledge of your children’s friends and their activities. Parental attitudes and norms regarding teen alcohol and drug use also play a role. NCBI research has also shown that parents’ use of alcohol is associated with under-age drinking. As a result, it is very important for parents to be mindful about the behaviors they are modeling for their children.
  4. Society and community: The communities in which we live make up a significant portion of our environment. Peer and social interactions don’t exclusively take place at school, but they also take place in neighborhoods. These are places where kids have access to institutional resources. The economic status, housing quality, and availability of these resources are the structural components that make up a neighborhood. Living in a disadvantaged neighborhood may be associated with poor outcomes for adolescents including delinquency, violence, substance use, lower academic achievement, and mental health issues. This is why families need to learn to manage stress and build a network of social support, regardless of the type of community they live in.
  5. Media and technology: In today’s world where everyone has a screen or two at all times, it’s beneficial to understand the role media and technology play in the lives of teens and the influence they may have on teenage behavior. According to NCBI, on average, 8- to 18-year-olds use media actively for 6 hours and 21 minutes each day, often using multiple forms of media at the same time. Social isolation because of excessive social networking, cyber bullying, and sexting are all risky behaviors that teens who use technology are at risk of engaging in. Limiting television and screen time can reduce the likelihood of your teen engaging in such risky behaviors.

As you can see, environment is paramount when it comes to the risky behaviors of teens. The more educated you become, the better environment you can provide for your child and their future. Ultimately, it’s essential to establish strong, trusting relationships with your kids. By doing this as well as arming yourself with knowledge and support, you can help decrease the chances of your teen engaging in risky behaviors and make a difference.

Kelly Fitzgerald is a sober writer based in Southwest Florida whose work has been published on sites like the Huffington Post, Ravishly and The Recovery Village. Kelly currently serves as the Content Manager for a network of drug rehab centers, and best known for her personal blog, The Adventures of a Sober Señorita, where she writes about life as a former party girl living in recovery. You can connect with Kelly on Facebook and Twitter.